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Cirque Du Soleil: Corteo
A magical journey that will spark your imagination and awaken the child within you.
By Matt Wilson
Corteo is a Cirque du Soleil touring production that premiered in North America in 2005. Corteo, which means ‘cortège’ or ‘funeral procession’ in Italian, is a festive parade or joyous procession. The twist here is that this joyous procession is actually a funeral march imagined by a clown after his death. The performance takes place in the mystic realm between life and death as the clown remembers the ridiculous and tragic life he had led surrounded by quiet, playful angels, and all the myriad carnival characters whom he’d known in life.
The show lasts two and a half hours with a 30-minute intermission and every single minute is packed with a feast for the senses. Blending illusion with acrobatic skill, the performers seem almost magical as if they really are no more than the dreams of a dying clown.
The setting is a small intimate theater illuminated by candlelight. An illusion … for in actuality, the tent roof is over forty feet high and the theater is a ring with the stage in the middle and the audience on both sides. Bats or birds or angels can be heard in the darkened heights where wings flutter, though no birds are seen. And suddenly, there is movement in the main aisle. A man and woman dressed in blue country rags drag a blue pauper’s coffin through the crowd. They are mourning the passage of a friend. An accident and the lid is opened and the coffin is empty. But not for long. The performers are walking on the audience seat backs with measuring tapes in hand, sizing up the audience members even as they weep on them. It’s a reminder: this could be your coffin. And it dawns on people as the measuring tape falls round their skull that even blue, this black humor is more funny to watch than to be a part of. Fortunately, none of the audience members will sleep in the coffin tonight. That special seat is saved for Mauro the clown.
The stage darkens and three massive crystal strung chandeliers, like the lights in an old church or mosque, are lowered from the ceiling, 40 feet overhead. Several sexy, hyper, athletic sprites slither over each other and the bent iron of the hanging chandeliers, which swing back and forth.
After each performance, Mauro remembers some aspect or time in his life. His memories are then translated into a new performance. For example, Mauro’s first memory is of his childhood in which he recalls his bedtime.
Acrobats on a steel-frame bed with wheels. Beds are rolling around the stage. Performers dressed like children for bed in blue and pink pajamas are jumping and bouncing from bed to bed. Flips and twirls, the children are twisted and tossed high into the air. It is the dream that all children have when playing on the bed. It’s how it feels to them and how we remember it. This is the magic of his childhood. This is also a parent’s worst nightmare. Don’t bring the kids.
The list of Corteo performances is long, but these are a few of my favorites.
The Vitruvian Man from Da Vinci’s notes, which depicts a nude male figure in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs apart and simultaneously inscribed in a circle and square, is brought to life in this performance with a few twists that Da Vinci may have loved. The man is rolling round the stage in a giant silver wheel. He spins like an ice skater becoming a blur of silver. Falls like a coin, being spun round a table again and again. Rolling on edge. Falling inward. Spinning on axis. A spinning sphere of living energy moving through time and space, forever separate from the other spheres’ men and women, all whirling like dervishes, until a woman joins him on the single ring and together they spin, completed.
In Mauro’s flight, the clown is carried aloft by angels. They present him with a pair of wings. But he must still learn how to fly. With each attempt, he gets a little higher only to fall farther. All along, the angels dance around him. Enjoying his efforts. They are not quite tricksters. But neither are they poised and serious. They are simultaneously like children, having fun in each moment, at each opportunity and like parents, allowing Mauro to fall, encouraging him to try again, for even in death it seems we have much to learn.
The tightrope performance truly walked the line between illusion and skill and I am not clear on which was which. There is a safety net below so the slender angel on a wire cannot be harmed and yet, still you are waiting for her to show some sign of having to balance. Of having to try and balance. But no. She is walking on a boulevard. Her feet never seem to wiggle. She is tossed giant hula-hoops and layers them up one after the other. In the end, she is an undulating mass of glimmering rings on a wire. It looks like she is dissolving into a vertical sine wave. Like the frequency of her humanity is becoming visible. Unbelievable. And then she walks up a tightrope at a 45-degree angle.
The helium dance: A tiny little lady no bigger than a toddler, is floated out onto the stage by Mauro in a harness tied to a dozen large silver balloons. The two have a disagreement, so naturally, he tosses her out into the audience. And up and out she goes. Have you ever been to a concert where they toss a giant ball out for the audience to bounce around? Imagine that with a tiny lady. And EVERYONE is reaching up to touch her feet. Now she is looking down on all of us shouting Krasivaya zamechatelnaya which is Russian for “beautiful, wonderful”, and I don’t know if she means us or her or life but she is beautiful and she is wonderful and so are all the performers in this show.
My wife Janna and I walked out of Corteo, our hands clasped tight, with a renewed sense of wonder and appreciation for the creative and physical capabilities of the human mind and body and a reawakened sense of the deep and playful nature of the child within us both. The child that just wants to jump on the bed, spin endlessly in circles and float off into the sky tied to giant balloons. To all those who brought this show to life I say, Krasivaya zamechatelnaya. Krasivaya zamechatelnaya.
Cirque Du Soleil Corteo 2007/2008 North American tour has already played in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Columbus and Denver. It will visit the following remaining cities:
City Start date End date
Portland, OR 4 March 2008 13 April 2008
Seattle, WA 24 April 2008 1 June 2008
Vancouver, BC 12 June 2008 6 July 2008
Calgary, AB 31 July 2008 7 September 2008
Ottawa, ON 24 September 20082 6 October 2008
Miami, FL 13 November 2008 28 December 2008
Tokyo, Japan 4 February 2009 5 May 2009
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