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Need a big bang for your buck? Try Cirque du Soleil
The Skeleton Dance is part of the fun at Cirque du Soleil, which is in town through March 1.

Two towns, two different circus acts

Kooza Cirque du Soleil and the Broadway show "Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy" are both in town. Cirque du Soleil, a traveling circus, is in Atlanta until March 1. While "Cirque Dreams," a show blending circus stunts with theater drama, is showing Feb. 11 in Athens.

Cirque du Soleil's ‘Kooza'

When: Jan. 2 to March 1
Where: Atlantic Station, Atlanta
How much: $49.50-$215
Contact: 800-678-5440

‘Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy'

"Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy" features aerialists, contortionists, acrobats, jugglers and musicians performing feats in a fantastical jungle setting.

When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11
Where: Classic Center Auditorium, 300 N. Thomas St., Athens
How much: $10-$75
Contact: 706-357-4444

Getting the most bang for your buck in today's economy is important no matter where your money is spent.

So, when a big, expensive, over-the-top production like Cirque du Soleil rolls into town, is the "bang" worth it?

For Atlanta audiences at a recent Cirque du Soleil show, it certainly was.

The Cirque people bring their creative handiwork to Atlanta every two years and never fail to open the mouths of audience members in laughter and awe.

"Kooza" is more than two hours of high-flying acrobatic acts, zany clown routines, live music and audience participation. It's hard to explain; call it circus nouveau, artistic athleticism or gymnastics for the spirit as well as body.

Barnum & Bailey is a great show, but it's still a game of checkers - Cirque du Soleil is chess on steroids.

Over the years Cirque du Soleil has grown in its reach, mystique and sophistication of art. It all began with a handful of street performers on stilts in Montreal in 1985.

Today, more than 4,000 employees, 90 million spectators and thousands of performances in more than 200 cities in the world later, Cirque has hit its stride. Repeat customers come see what new wondrous wizardry will unfold under the big top.

"Kooza" tells the story of a young Innocent who wanders and wonders in search of his place in the world. Along his journey he meets the Trickster, the Obnoxious Tourist and his engaging dog Pickpocket who plies his trade on an unsuspecting audience member, a King of Fools and his two goofball assistants.

The acts in "Kooza" include three incredible contortionists, a solo trapeze artist, a juggler, a unicyclist who dances with a woman while on his wheels, a high-wire act, a teeterboard act that flings people on stilts in loops head over heels and a young man who climbs more than 20 feet up stacked chairs.

While all of these acts are entertaining, none of them reach the point of taking your breath away. For that, you must see the Wheel of Death.

The act involves a 1,600-pound apparatus made of two wheels connected to a long axle - try to picture a huge bicycle frame on stage with the frame rotating as the wheels each spin. As the frame rotates, men in each wheel provide power for them to spin. Both men perform breathtaking stunts as the wheels spin high into the air.

That's thrilling enough, but when one of the men gets onto the outer portion of one of the wheels - where one slip can make a big mess on the concrete - it seems as if everyone inhales collectively.

He prances around the outer ring and leaps into the air using gravity and centrifugal force in the most daring and precise manner. Suffice it to say that the Wheel of Death is aptly named.

Catch the death-defying feats through March 1 at Atlantic Station in Atlanta.