cirque-0610
Image: Al Seib

Tent city Cirque du Soleil’s “Grand Chapiteau” seats 2,600 people.

UNDER THE BIG TOP—“Le Grand Chapiteau”—stands a stack of eight chairs, rising more than 20 feet in the air. And atop that stack is Chinese acrobat Zhang Gongli, all muscle, balancing on one arm. Not leg. Arm. His teetering-tower act has a Zen-like purity, while the rest of Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza show spills out and around in organized chaos. Skeleton dancers parade in feathered headdresses. Two, three, four high-wire walkers cross the air simultaneously. Contortionists bend without snapping, unicyclists do the tango. And the costumes! There are 160 hats alone.

Keeping it all running smoothly is artistic director Adam Miller, a former principal dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet who’s been the self-proclaimed “mayor of this little artistic village” since January. No stranger to spectacle, Miller performed in the original PNB production of Kent Stowell and Maurice Sendak’s Nutcracker, and 15 ballets by Balanchine, maybe 20. But the classically trained dance veteran never thought he would be at the helm of a community of clowns. “It wasn’t my career track, so to speak, as a child. But it’s really important when an adventure presents itself that you grab hold.”

And with his latest Cirque assignment, which sets up camp in Marymoor Park for nearly all of June, Miller leads the French-Canadian troupe in a traveling show that returns to its roots. “It’s harking back to a traditional circus. There aren’t a lot of fancy gadgets and machinery involved. It’s a really human show,” in which a Trickster leads an Innocent—red nosed and in striped pajamas—into a crazed kingdom full of acrobats and aerialists. It’s more upbeat than past Cirque shows, and, if you’ve ever seen the sexy spectacle Zumanity in Las Vegas, significantly more family friendly.

But it still has that “spectacular kind of wow factor,” said Miller. “A real sense of derring-do.” More derring-do than, say, Teatro ZinZanni? Or traveling Cirque Dreams Illumination, which came through Seattle in May? How many high-wire acts can this city handle?

Admittedly, Miller said, Kooza has a secret weapon: “Everybody does go nuts for the Wheel of Death.”