Around about the same time as Cirque du Soleil was founded (1984), I was living in Ottawa and eagerly awaited the annual visit of the Ringling Brothers Circus where I had played clarinet and all manner of saxophones (with just one rehearsal) as the troupe of acrobats, clowns and animals (the parade was always a big hit and promotional gold) floated through the air with the greatest of ease, told bad jokes as the three-ring focus changed or scared the bejeebers out of kids and adults alike with roars, growls and trumpeting that required no valves. Fire eating was also on the menu.
At the opening of the latest incarnation (first seen in 2005) of Corteo last night at St. Catharines’ Meridian Centre, I was (a) transported back to circus life that could be smelled as well as seen, (b) happy that in all the years travelling to Las Vegas that I had never set foot in a Cirque show, (c) perfectly clear as to why these productions ought not be considered theatre by any stretch of the imagination, and (d) thoroughly delighted by the talented individuals on both sides of the proverbial footlights who largely entertained the appreciative crowd without any animal being put under duress.
The creativity and imagination of creator-director Daniele Finzi Pasca, set designer Jean Rabasse, costume designer Dominique Lemieux and choreographer Debra Brown flood the eye with colour, movement and magic that can be savoured immensely even if not a sound was heard.
The arena setting (in this case home of the Niagara IceDogs) and sound reinforcement produced a less than stellar aural result, losing many lines (no matter which language spoken) and pushing many of the musical contributions to the precipice of distortion. Nonetheless, composer Philippe Leduc has crafted an engaging score; on this occasion band leader Roger Hewett led his talented charges with sensitive authority. And extra-special kudos to the saxophone—most especially soprano—skills of Philippe Poirier and searing/soaring violin wizardry from Stéphane Allard (the latter’s “duel” with Mr. Loyal The Whistler—appropriately MC-like was Sean Lomax—even if their “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” was not, in fact, written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), was a showstopper in its own right. Even stage productions need fact checkers—especially in 2018.
Mauro the Dreamer Clown (given a wonderfully Pagliacci-like turn by Mauro Mozzani) magically conjures up a cortège in order to dream his way into his own funeral, naturally surrounded by angels on high.
With that as a very loose premise, the game is afoot (or above on many occasions) and the plot points don’t matter a whit.
Highlights along the journey:
“Bouncing Beds,” will have young and old dying for a chance to jump along with the troupe.
“Suspended Pole” is a miracle of body control and balance, exquisitely performed by Stephanie Ortega.
“Hula-Hoop” quite literally leaves no limb unturned, thanks to the masterful talent of Sante D’Amours Fortunato.
“Teeterboard” and “Paradis” are prime examples of what any circus does best: dazzle the crowd with seemingly unbelievable moves, coordination and gusto from some of the finest acrobats on the planet.
“Duo Straps”, featuring Botakoz Bayatanova and Oleksandr Kunytskyi, is a spectacular pas de deux, largely in the air and the closest segment to balletic art from the entire show.
Not everything works: “Teatro Intimo”—an attempted sendup of Romeo and Juliet—is merely embarrassing and too silly for words. Let’s leave Shakespeare to Stratford, even if that company’s musicals slip more and more from the big top into their Festival Theatre (cross-reference below).
Quibbles aside, here’s a production—more and more rare these days—for the entire family from toddlers to octogenarians, kindling in one and all the hidden desire to run away from life and join the circus. JWR