KOOZA Comes Back to Calgary 

A whimsical and daring ode to a traditional circus, Cirque du Soleil’s KOOZA returns to YYC after more than a decade.

Butterflies flutter eagerly in Cedric Belisle’s stomach as the countdown to showtime commences. Calmly, he inserts his AirPods and begins to apply his makeup; listening to soft music.

To step into the whimsical and wacky world of Cirque du Soleil’s KOOZA, and embrace his role as the show’s principal character The Innocent, it’s integral for Belisle to lower his energetic frequency.

“My character is very naïve; he’s a loner,” says Belisle. “At the start of the show it’s really important for me to channel that side of him.”

Photos: David Kotsibie

While the tracks Belisle favours to get into a pre-show mindset change all the time, Adele is one of his preferred musicians. “She’s also my partner’s favourite artist,” he adds. “So, it’s a way for me to stay connected to him.”

That connection, that grounding to reality, is echoed in the role The Innocent plays in contrast to the high-flying acrobatics and daring acts KOOZA is renowned for; including the Wheel of Death, the world’s only double high wire performance, and an aerial silks act performed by Japanese artist Mizuki Shinagawa.     

“It’s very relatable for the audience to connect with The Innocent, because the show is told through his eyes.”

Cedric Belisle

“Just like it could be told through the eyes of any members of the audience.” 

Written and directed by David Shiner, KOOZA relays the story of The Innocent, an endearing if naïve clown, finding his place in the world. One day while flying his kite, The Innocent receives a mysterious item and is transported to the bizarre, zany world of KOOZA. The Innocent navigates this strange place under the watchful eye of the show’s other lead character: The Trickster. 

“It’s a beautiful journey of self-discovery, and I think that every single member of the audience can definitely relate to The Innocent,” says Belisle.

Indeed, KOOZA’s plot might be familiar to Calgarians who had the privilege of stepping into the Big Top 13 years ago, when KOOZA last visited the city in 2010. Cirque du Soleil’s take on a traditional circus, KOOZA was revamped in 2021.  

“It was beloved in 2010 and it has only gotten increasingly more impressive,” says Gracie Valdez, KOOZA’s artistic director. “There are new artists, and we’ve updated the technology in the show.” 

This will be Valdez’s third visit to Calgary with Cirque. Most recently, she came to the city in 2019 as the artistic director of LUZIA. That was Cirque du Soleil’s last performance in Calgary before Covid-19 put a pause on tours.  

“I love the Calgary audience,” says Valdez. “We always receive a really warm welcome. You guys love when people come in and perform, and are a really authentic and beautiful audience. I am really looking forward to that.”

In contrast, this will be Belisle’s first time coming to Calgary as part of the Cirque du Soleil troupe. 

“I am enjoying the time I am getting to travel across Canada,” says Belisle. “Being in my home country, it is very special for me to perform in all these different cities. Stopping by in Calgary is a moment I have been looking forward to for a long time.”

Particularly special for Belisle was having the opportunity to perform KOOZA in his home town of Ottawa; which is where he first discovered his passion for performance, and knew he wanted to one-day work at Cirque du Soleil. 

“My first introduction to Cirque was when I was 10 years old,” says Belisle. “It was a Saturday morning, and I was trying to look for cartoons. I actually landed on Cirque du Soleil’s ALEGRIA. I looked at my parents in that moment and I told them, ‘Mom, Dad, that’s exactly what I want to do when I grow up.’”

Belisle’s parents supported his dream, spending long hours driving him to and from gymnastics training. Eventually, Belisle would go on to become a competitive trampolinist; joining the Canadian junior team from 2006 to 2007, where he won the bronze medal at the Indo Pacific Championships in South Africa. In 2009, Belisle retired from competing to focus on his original goal: performing with Cirque du Soleil. 

He wouldn’t have to wait long for his dream to come true. At age 19, he auditioned for Cirque. Two weeks later, he learned the good news. 

“I still remember waiting at home for that phone call and receiving it, and just running into my parents’ arms and jumping and celebrating with them,” says Belisle. “It was truly a moment that I will never forget.”

After his initial start as a power track performer and understudy for the role of Jamie in WINTUK, Belisle joined the cast of KOOZA as part of the house-troupe and understudy for The Innocent. Leaving KOOZA in 2015, Belisle toured with the cast of VAREKAI. Two years later, he returned to KOOZA and took over the role of The Innocent from Stephane Landry.

Photos: David Kotsibie

“He’s the one who really created the character,” says Belisle. “So, when I came in — with character work, you never want to copy someone else’s work. You want to bring your own touch.”

Belisle’s take on The Innocent draws heavily upon his own history and life experiences. “The Innocent really, really wants to make his kite fly,” he explains. “And that was just like me when I was a child, dreaming of making it onto the Cirque du Soleil stage. I apply those same feelings to my character; the feeling of me lying in bed at night dreaming of stepping out onto that stage.”

“I was also on the show when Cedric started as The Innocent,” says Valdez, whose career with Cirque began in 2008 as a stage manager. “I’m very proud of him for how he has developed that character and how he keeps it fresh from show to show.”

As artistic director, Valdez is passionate about ensuring the 52 artists under her direction present their authentic selves and “keep the spark alive” while performing the same show night after night. “I work really closely with the artists; exploring their ideas and making sure that we keep things relevant and exciting,” she notes.

Indeed, since 2007 KOOZA has been performed for more than 8 million spectators in more than 20 countries around the world.

“I have seen KOOZA hundreds of times and I will continue to do so,” adds Valdez.

“The show has got everything. It’s got a rollercoaster of emotions; you really get to be awed and inspired and go on this journey with The Innocent. It’s a nice break from reality.”

Gracie Valdez, Kooza Artistic Director

Belisle adds that there’s nothing like the energy of KOOZA. “It’s a beautiful show. There’s something for everybody in it; kids, grownups, everyone will be mesmerized,” he says. “I’m excited to see everyone out there and perform for you guys.”

KOOZA will be showing in Calgary from Aug. 25 to Oct. 8, 2023. Tickets are available online at