A Cirque du Soleil production. At the Grand Chí¢piteau at Concord Place on Saturday, June 14. Continues until July 20
As we saw with its last production in town, Cirque du Soleil can be a bit Vegas, baby. That’s why the carnivalesque Corteo transports audiences into such a surprising new world. Gone are the glitzy sequins and exotic face paint of shows like Varekai, which hit Vancouver in 2006. Instead we get a parade of harlequins and acrobats, little people and giants, all outfitted in a gorgeously muted, turn-of-the-last-century palette. Think of the characters and colours of Picasso’s carnival-obsessed Rose Period, recast into a David Lynch dreamscape.
The mood is set quickly in a spectacular opening sequence. Corteo, directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, begins with a funeral for a clown (Pierre-Philippe Guay). Women from his past appear as visions at his death bed, then suddenly peel down to their garters and grab onto three gigantic, twirling chandeliers that whisk them into the air. The glittering light fixtures become trapezes, with the vixens dangling, spinning, and shaking crystals with every move.
What follows is a stream of the seemingly dead man’s hallucinations. They play out on a stage that splits the audience in half: thanks to a round, revolving centre and a ramp on either side, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.
Corteo’s eye-popping acrobatics are always creatively integrated into evocative settings. In one standout moment, antique brass beds become trampolines, with gymnasts bouncing off the mattresses and then swinging up over the headboards. Circle motifs abound, from the rings a troupe of crack jugglers hurl through the air to the ethereal Cyr Wheels—giant silver hoops that performers stand in, and then spin maniacally around the floor.
As for the clowning, yes, it rains rubber chickens at one point. But for the most part, Corteo’s comic bits aren’t as corny as in some of Cirque’s other shows. A parody of Romeo and Juliet, performed on a tiny wheeled theatre that plays the size of two little people off the giant clowns barking directions at them from the sides, is a twisted treat.
Philippe Leduc’s music is as strong as the show’s imagery—a strange symphony of virtuoso percussion, accordion, organ, and even wine glasses, whistling, and Tibetan bowls.
Still, Corteo’s strength really lies in its characters, most of whom are not hidden behind masks. A single, unforgettable moment captures the overall feel. It happens when little person Valentyna Pahlevanyan floats through the air under six humongous, helium-filled balloons, her dainty pink-slippered feet occasionally touching down on the audience’s raised hands. The experience is an utterly unique mix of surreal art and uplifting human connection. If this is what the afterlife is like, dying suddenly doesn’t seem so scary.