Cirque du Soleil made its United States debut at the Santa Monica Pier in 1987. To celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary this year, the Big Top will return to the original location with KOOZA from Friday, Oct. 19, through Sunday, Dec. 1.

The show, bathed in a moody gold and crimson set, is an homage to clowns and the original circus. It opened in 2007 and has had nearly eight million spectators with more than  4,000  performances in 65 cities across 22 countries. This marks Cirque du Soleil’s first Big Top show in Santa Monica since 2014.

“Coming back to Santa Monica is so exciting for everyone in the company,” Cirque’s Senior Artistic Director Michael G. Smith tells L.A. Weekly. “It’s everyone’s favorite destination on the North American tour, and it’s been a while.  These two iconic things coming together once again for a new generation is fabulous.”

With agile sensitivity, Kooza has adjusted and adapted to the changes and challenges of the last 17 years, balancing its breathtaking razzle-dazzle, as audiences have also changed.

Cirque du Soleil

Original Santa Monica Cirque du Soleil company (Helen K Garber)

The pandemic was a catastrophe,” Smith says. “But as with any other adversity, do you see it as a catastrophe or an opportunity? Coming back from the pandemic, we had a big realization that the world was a different place. We were all different. The important things in people’s lives changed. It wasn’t about the next job or the bank account, but the more important things in life like relationships, family, and friends. What we found was that audiences had different expectations. It’s not just about wowing an audience anymore, it’s about making an audience feel. As human beings, we are group animals, and we like that shared experience.  Once we create an emotion, we create an individual memory for the audience that becomes theirs and improves their life. Everything coming out of the pandemic was about that, how do we touch people and adjust to the sensitivity of the new audience?”

Part of that Kooza experience acts like The Wheel of Death, which Smith says is named that for good reason.

“I look at the floor or the audience because I can’t watch it,” he says. “I know it’s safe because I respect the guys that do it and that they know what they’re doing. It’s the least pretentious show we’ve ever done. The whole set is designed to reflect a traditional circus. It’s people doing the impossible in the scariest way. It’s hardcore and it’s thrilling, and that’s what keeps everyone coming back.”

Cirque du Soleil

The Wheel of Death (Courtesy Cirque du Soleil)

In the company’s 40 years, two acrobats fell to their deaths during performances, including French aerialist Sarah Guyard-Guillot in Nevada in 2013 and Yann Arnaud in Florida in 2018.

“Safety is a huge concern because we are in the business of risk; you need three points of safety,” says Smith. “I was at the show when we had the fatal accident on Volta in Miami and it was the most traumatic experience I’ve ever had. It took us three months to get the company back together. It’s part of what we do, we have to accept that, and it’s why people come to see what they see. The biggest safety protection for the artist is simply practice. Our days are 12 hours. People dedicate their lives to this. The dangerous acts in the show are not the solo acts, it’s the group acts. Everybody is interconnected and their safety depends on everybody. We have sixth-generation high-wire acts and elite Olympic-trained athletes who’ve been taught to shut down their emotions. We spend months taking them from being an athlete, where everything is internalized, to where emotions are exercised and they become performance artists.  It’s a lifestyle choice, not a job.”

Cirque du Soleil made its first United States debut at the opening of the Los Angeles Festival in 1987. The Big Top set ground at the pier for its first internationally staged show the same year,  which led to a turning point in the growth of the Canada-based circus and a tour of California. Since then, the company returned with 10 different productions over the years to a location that became a favorite tour residency destination.

Tickets for Santa Monica performances of KOOZA are available online exclusively to Club Cirque members starting today. For a free subscription, visit General on-sale starts on Monday, May 6,  at

Cirque du Soleil

Le Cirque (Helen K Garber)

Cirque du Soleil

Kooza crooner (Courtesy Cirque du Soleil)



































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