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Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza

To say that Cirque du Soleil’s shows are elaborate production numbers understates their magnitude.

For every show, the Quebecoise-based circus phenomenon builds an elaborate microcosmos beneath the big top, transporting patrons to fantastic realms where gasps are guaranteed.
 
While Kooza, the company’s latest show to hit Oz, returns to the meat and bones of circus with a focus on acrobatics and clowning – it’s no less a behemoth. With 35 road cases and 3,500 costume pieces for the show’s 50 international performers, including wigs, shoes and props, Kooza is still every bit a Cirque du Soleil juggernaut. Jason Brass, Head of Wardrobe for Kooza, is the man who keeps the visual and artistic integrity of it all in check.
 
Brass has been involved in theatre since he was in his teens and was always more interested in what was happening behind the scenes, as opposed to traipsing the boards. When starting out in his career, Brass worked with some small regional companies in opera and ballet, but serendipity intervened. He was working in Sarasota at the Asolo Theatre Festival when an old pal he hadn’t seen for a decade strolled in, hitting him up for a position at Cirque du Soleil as a wardrobe assistant, albeit six months later. Almost 17 years have elapsed since.
 
Now, as the Head of Costume for Kooza, Brass’ role sounds like a logistic nightmare. It takes three full-time staff, including Brass, and four local staff in each city to keep wardrobe ticking over and they need to hit the ground running.
 
“When we bring a show to a new city, because we pack it dirty from the last city, it takes 28 loads of laundry just to do the set up,” Brass says. It also requires a willingness to roll up the sleeves. “Everything in a circus changes daily,” he reflects. “Typically, we come in early mornings and start ironing and pressing and steaming the costumes and checking everything over, to get the show ready. But every day can be a new challenge, there’s no consistency in what we do. If one of my employees is out, I’ll step in and do the ironing and styling on the wigs.”
 
Not only do the costumes need to look schmick, they also need to be safe. “We design the costumes to make sure that the artist is functional and safe,” Brass says. “We have great tricks of the trade. For instance, some of our buttons aren’t buttons, they’re silicon pieces that won’t injure the artist. Everyday we’ll go in and check costumes to make sure beads or rhinestones aren’t falling off, and to catch anything that could become a hazard.”
 
By the sounds of it, Brass’ only real bugbear is the palaver involved in shipping some of the costumes in and out of the country. “There’s a paperwork nightmare in bringing feathers and leathers into different countries,” he says.
 
Kooza’s costumes, which are the brainchildren of costume designer Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt, draw influence from inspirations as diverse as Alice in Wonderland through to Mad Max. “You’re not going to see the rough and dirty Mad Max, but you will see some slight mohawks in the wigs,” Brass says.
 
The costumes are painstakingly made. For instance, all shoes are custom made, the fabric involved starts off-white and is dyed or sublimated onsite at Cirque du Soleil’s HQ, and about 300 measurements are taken of each performer’s body in order to nail the fit of his or her costume. That said, the technology involved is getting crazy high tech. For example, the company used to take plaster casts of performers’ heads to make hats, which was about a four-hour process. Even Brass marvels.
 
“Now, we are able to do it digitally: we put little electrodes on their face and scan their whole head.”
 
By Meg Crawford

Cirque du Soleil's KOOZA runs at The Big Top, Flemington Racecourse, from Friday January 20 through to Sunday March 12.