Cirque du Soleil: Corteo

90. See Cirque du Soleil

What an amazing weekend! To my complete surprise, Mink got us tickets to see Cirque du Soleil: Corteo as my belated birthday present, and I’d never been to a show before so I was stoked. And I was not disappointed: it was one of the most spectacular performances I’ve ever witnessed, and I loved every minute of it!

We got dressed up and arrived at the big white tent about 15 minutes before the show began (we’re not really great at getting to places ahead of time, so this was impressive). By chance, when we showed the usher our tickets, she said that there were extra seats available in a section next to the stage. So, we ended up about 10 rows back from the action, right in the centre of it all. And, since we were in the row in front of a main passageway through the audience, we had the enhanced experience of the performers hitting us on the head with fake chickens and heckling us as they passed through on their way to the stage.

The concept of Corteo is simple but beautiful, as the Cirque du Soleil website summarizes:

Corteo, which means “cortege” in Italian, is a joyous procession, a festive parade imagined by a clown. The show brings together the passion of the actor with the grace and power of the acrobat to plunge the audience into a theatrical world of fun, comedy and spontaneity situated in a mysterious space between heaven and earth.

The clown pictures his own funeral taking place in a carnival atmosphere, watched over by quietly caring angels. Juxtaposing the large with the small, the ridiculous with the tragic and the magic of perfection with the charm of imperfection, the show highlights the strength and fragility of the clown, as well as his wisdom and kindness, to illustrate the portion of humanity that is within each of us. The music, by turns lyrical and playful, carries Corteo through a timeless celebration in which illusion teases reality.

All of the acts were impressive, and they ran the emotional gamut from breathtakingly haunting to hilarious slapstick. The music matched these shifts between the visually arresting and the lightly campy, at times jaunty and reminiscent of “traditional” circus music, and at times intensely passionate. I loved how the actors spoke a combination of English, German (because they were showing in Vienna), Italian (because of the clown’s character) and French (since the Cirque du Soleil originated in Montréal and some of the acrobats are likely Québecois[e]). Not to get all Bakhtin on you, but the conglomeration of languages added to the overall playful haphazardness and undercurrent of chaos that typically characterizes the carnivalesque performance, and it seemed only natural that the actors and acrobats should be able to communicate between themselves and with the audience so fluidly.

My favourite comedic sketch was the one in which the tiny woman, attached to giant helium balloons, floated all over the stage while the lead clown held her by her feet. She eventually bounced into the audience, floating over us all and “lifting off” of people’s outstretched hands whenever she got low enough. Best of all, she made adorable squeaking sounds every time she jumped from one hand to another! (All of these photos are from the Corteo website, since we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the performance.)

The other hilarious sketch centred on a pair of two-person horses and a tiny ringmaster, which was simple but cute. Although it would clearly be more fun to be the top half, since one gets to act mischievous and impetuous, I was actually more impressed by the “horse’s ass,” who had to dance whilst remaining bent over for the entire act:

Yes, that is a tiny, tiny man between them!

For the straightforwardly acrobatic acts, the most visually stunning one was the first, in which four women swung from giant chandeliers over the moribund clown’s bed. At this point I got really excited about the entire show, since the awesomeness sunk in as the chandeliers started to spin wildly:

An enchanting dream for the dying.

The most emotionally evocative act, for me, was the aerial straps act, in which a male/female pair suspended themselves by the ribbons and swung over the stage together. The sheer physical strength they exerted in the various positions was mind-blowing. I can’t even imagine being able to suspend myself by one foot through a twist of ribbon, be in the complete splits, and have my partner swinging underneath me while holding onto my other foot… It’s amazing what the human body can do with enough training.

Another terrifying (but also incredibly aesthetically pleasing) act was the one called “Paradise.” Words fail to encompass the act’s fantastic visual effect, but basically there was a long, catwalk type trampoline set up under three very high platforms spaced intermittently along the stage. Five lithe women and four brawny men stood atop these platforms, and the men took turns swinging other men along the trampoline walkway and the women through the air. It was pretty stressful to watch, as every toss presented a new risk, but the risk factor made it all the more beautiful.

Paradise Lost.

Although he had a small role, the ringmaster character was also quite funny, and he was an excellent whistler. Since this is one of my random skills that I will never be able to justify putting on a resume, I always have respect for those who can incorporate whistling into their professional lives. The only other person who springs to mind who uses whistling as a marketable skill is Andrew Bird, that charming fellow.

I wish I had this outfit in my regular wardrobe rotation.

The pictures, of course, don’t do the show justice, and nor do my words accurately express the spectrum of emotion conveyed by the actors/acrobats and the overall atmosphere under the big white tent. So, I recommend the experience to anyone who has the opportunity to go; we had an amazing time, and it made me proud to be Canadian!

The final act: eight men simultaneously spinning on bars!

2 thoughts on “Cirque du Soleil: Corteo

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