Crews raise Cirque du Soleil’s big top for Kooza at Concord Pacific Place in Vancouver.

Fort Langley man is Cirque’s laughmaker

Gordon White is part of Kooza, the show offered by Cirque du Soleil.

Stuart Derdeyn/Special to the Langley Advance

There are common garden variety clowns. Then there is the King of Fools.

Fort Langley-bred Gordon White wears the royal laughmaker’s crown in Cirque du Soleil’s new show Kooza, which opens this week in the blue-and-white-striped big top tent in False Creek South. It’s a role the lifetime jokester relishes as it returns the company to its roots courtesy of globally famous guffaw guru, David Shiner.

“This is the first show I’ve ever done a creation for and working with David is an honour as he has developed some of the finest pieces in the world, such as the now-classic silent movie where he pulls eight or so audience members out and then makes a full silent movie with them,” said White.

“It’s hilarious, it’s genius and enduring. Kooza is really focused on that kind of quality with excellent acrobatics and what you’ve come to expect at a Cirque show.”

Shiner has worked with the Quebec company developing routines for Quidam and other touring productions. For Kooza, the goal was to go back to the clowning and acrobatic roots of Cirque du Soleil, with less of the super high gloss production apparatus of some recent touring shows.

The narrative follows the Innocent’s journey through a world of comic and athletic characters with a focus on such comic characters as White’s King of Fools, the robotic Heimloss and crowd-pleasing Obnoxious Tourist and Bad Dog.

“In this show, the stories are perhaps more knitted together than some of the other productions as you travel through this world ruled over by my character, who is a complete and total idiot,” White said. “Everyone may not know it, but to really make it work as a clown, you need to be completely exposed and vulnerable and in this one, I’m digging deep as I can into my inner dolt. The King may rule, but he barely seems aware of where he is or what he’s doing.”

It’s a unique headspace to maintain and makes clowns their own clique in the circus world.

Where the acrobats, contortionists and maniacs who perform on the show-stopping Wheel of Death are backstage being bendy and friendly between acts, the clowns are often over in the corners or back in their dressing rooms quietly reflecting on breaking down all the walls between their inner selves and the audience to expose the pure zaniness that means a successful show. It’s not for everyone, White admitted.

“I knew I wanted to be a performer, specifically a clown, watching the Ed Sullivan Show as young as age five,” he said.

“Later, after I graduated from Studio 58, I pursued the form – and let me tell you, it isn’t an easy or entirely pleasant process developing your character.”

He said Shiner is a very giving creator for the group.

“David’s concept of it was to have this trio of clowns being watched by the audience who are going, ‘I don’t believe they are going to do that, I don’t believe they are doing that and, finally, I don’t believe that they did that,’ and that is pretty great to work with,” he said.

“The acrobatic acts are also on the edge of your seat and really back to the adrenalin excitement of classic Cirque.”

Naturally, there is the pageantry people have come to expect from any Cirque du Soleil show to be found in Kooza. It wouldn’t be right to not push boundaries in stage look and design, and costumer Marie-Chantale Vallaincourt has apparently crafted some of the most complex and mesmerizing suits in the company’s history for this tour. Audience members will appreciate the rounded stage design allowing 270-degree sightlines.

Kooza, inspired by the Sanskrit word for chest or treasure, promises a “circus in a box” experience.

– Stuart Derdeyn is a Vancouver Province reporter

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