Joey Vice: dancer-acrobat's the new sly Trickster in Cirque du Soleil's 'Kooza'

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday January 2, 2024
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Joey Vice as The Trickster in Cirque du Soleil's 'Kooza' (photo: David Kotsibie); portrait by Lacy Stace<br>
Joey Vice as The Trickster in Cirque du Soleil's 'Kooza' (photo: David Kotsibie); portrait by Lacy Stace

The loose narrative throughline of Cirque du Soleil's "Kooza," which opens on January 17 under a tent to be raised outside of Oracle Park, features two characters: The Innocent, a naïve young man, and The Trickster, a magical mentor who escorts him on a journey of self-discovery.

Two Augusts ago, after submitting a performance video and then auditioning for Cirque management, Joey Vice was cast as The Trickster.

But at age 18, moving away from his family home in the small town of Westerville, Ohio to tour the world in his first-ever job, Vice was very much The Innocent as well (His last name only heightens the irony).

"I joined right out of high school," Vice, now 20, told the Bay Area Reporter in a recent interview from Vancouver, where "Kooza" closed out 2023. "I only had about three weeks from the time I auditioned until I left to go up to Montreal for training and then join the tour. It was a big switch for me and my mom was definitely not ready for it!"

But Vice had experience handling major transitions.

Joey Vice  

"My parents are both fitness coaches and when I was a kid, I played soccer competitively. My dad was my coach. But when I was in fifth grade, I went to one of my friends' sister's dance recitals and I immediately knew that's what I wanted to do. I just fell in love with it. I think my parents were maybe a little bit sad that I wanted to do dance instead of soccer at first, but they've been incredibly supportive."

Vice's parents home-schooled him from the sixth grade forward, which allowed him to maintain a rigorous dance training schedule and participate in dance team competitions.

"I've always been extremely focused and competitive," he recalled.

Even with his folks' support and his own strong desire, Vice initially experienced some psychological dissonance in the dance studio.

"I knew I wanted to do this, but I felt so embarrassed being the only boy in classes that were otherwise all girls," he said. "It was a while before I met other male dancers and part of what I want to do now is to let boys know that they can be dancers if they want to. I want to give the kind of inspiration that I didn't always have."

Out on the road
Among Vice's own boyhood inspirations were the Cirque du Soleil shows that he saw with his family, in which dancing felt less gender-specific. Having always enjoyed tumbling and acrobatics as well, Vice began to fantasize about someday working for Cirque du Soleil.

Only after that dream came true and Vice began touring with "Kooza" did he fully recognize and embrace himself as a gay man. He came out under a big top.

"Honestly, between the fact that I come from a place that's pretty conservative and that I was so focused on my dance training, I just wasn't focused on relationships or dating, and I really didn't think about it. And I didn't have anyone in my life who I knew was gay."

Joey Vice as The Trickster (in mask) in Cirque du Soleil's 'Kooza'  

That's since changed for the better.

"But in 'Kooza' I share the Trickster role with another dancer, who is also gay," said Vice. And so is the dancer who plays the Innocent. They have been mentors for me in terms of work and living on tour, and we've also become a little community within the company, along with some of the other queer performers."

In the fall of 2022, while in Los Angeles during a break between "Kooza" tour stops, Vice went on a first date with Will B, a young singer-songwriter he'd first communicated with online. A longtime anti-bullying activist, Will B has worked with performers including Lea Michele and John Legend.

The two have since become a couple, prompting Vice to come out to his parents, who are supportive of the young men.

"Will sometimes joins me when I'm on tour," Vice noted. "It's really amazing to be discovering different parts of the country and the world together."

Among the most exciting — and initially intimidating — parts of tour life for Vice have been spending multi-week engagements in places where English is not the primary language.

"As soon as I took the job, I was in Montreal, and in addition to everything else that was new, everyone was speaking French," he recalled. "That was something I had to get used to. All the signs and everything were in French and that was really tripping me up."

Joey Vice as The Trickster (mid-air) in Cirque du Soleil's 'Kooza'  

By the time "Kooza" made its way to Mexico City though, said Vice, "It was lots of fun to go out exploring and trying to speak Spanish. We have people of so many nationalities in the company [150 cast and crew travel with the show] that there's always someone who speaks the language who can help be your guide."

Domestic dreams
For all the personal growth and unusual experiences that touring with Cirque du Soleil offers, Vice has a strong domestic streak.

"I'm a vegan, so I spend a lot of time cooking wherever we're staying in a city. My boyfriend and I will watch this show together remotely. It's called 'The Fosters.' It's on Disney+ and it's about a family. It covers so many issues, LGBTQ things, people transitioning, racism, sexism. It's so great to have a show like that."

Vice is limiting the time he spends out on the town during "Kooza" engagements in order to build up his savings.

"My boyfriend and I want to get a place together in Los Angeles and have more of a settled life. I like touring, but I think I'm going to end my contract in October."

Vice says he's especially grateful for the platform that "Kooza" has given him to reach out to boys who are interested in dance.

"I didn't see representation like that when I was growing up," he said. "Boys shouldn't have to feel shame for wanting to dance or for being queer. I hope that I can really inspire somebody."

Cirque du Soleil's "Kooza," Jan. 17 to March 10 at Oracle Park, Lot A; April 18 to May 26 at San Jose County Fairgrounds. From $49. (888) 257-6442.

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