The Circus Is In Town. Well, Not Really.



In college, I had a friend mildly obsessed with Cirque du Soleil who would travel far and wide (or more accurately, to neighboring states, which in Texas is traveling far and wide) to see the newest shows. She would sometimes plan her trips around the touring dates and locations. You could almost say she went on tour for Cirque du Soleil rather than the other way around.

I myself have been to five shows now in five different states for two permanent productions and three touring shows. You could say I am somewhat of a Cirque groupie as well, but for the record, I have never crossed state lines just to see a show as long as going to New Jersey from Manhattan doesn’t count. When I learned Cirque’s newest touring production, Corteo, was in town for a month, I felt a slight sense of obligation. The Cirque has come to me in my own town during my 3L year and who am I to refuse when it’s essentially sitting in my lap?

Corteo, meaning “cortege” in Italian, refers to, according to the informational blurb on the Cirque website, a joyous procession in which a playful clown imagines his own funeral. The show in its entirety can be thought of as a parade of memories, a carnival-like atmosphere in which angels descend from above to watch over and help the characters with their performance. (I was actually hoping the angels would do something more fun than hand over hoops and ropes; maybe there would be devilish angels who would fight the heavenly ones, but now I digress…When you watch the show, you realize that everything and anything is possible, so you start to imagine alternative scenes in your mind. That is part of the fun.)

The first acrobatic event opens with a troupe of scantily clad women forcefully and gracefully swinging from elaborate chandeliers. Something you had always wished had happened in Phantom of the Opera. I later read that these four light fixture-dangling females represent the clown’s four former lovers, but it’s difficult to catch these almost nonexistent subtleties to the larger story when your eyes are drawn to the spectacle at hand. (Also, why aren’t the clown’s lovers clowns too?)

Corteo is dreamlike not only because the set design and costumes are illusory and enchanting, but because not everything makes sense and it doesn’t really matter. At one point, the dead clown comes out with a “little person” who is tethered to giant balloons which allow her to float over the heads of the audience members. The show is participatory to the extent that you may have the opportunity to push her feet from below and hear her giggle and coo as you send her off like you would a bouncing beach ball at a concert. It’s loveably absurd and it’s over before you start to think about what you just did. As if things couldn’t be stranger, the rhythmic gymnastics routine ends with a torrential downpour of rubber chickens, which are brushed down a large manhole as if that is the most sensible thing to do with them, which, I suppose, it is in this case.

And of course, like any good circus, there are jugglers, tightrope walkers, and people who walk up tall ladders and bounce around like they are immortal or magic has possessed these otherwise ordinary items. Actually, after a few acts, you become desensitized to the incredulity of the acrobatic feats and you think: Juggle faster please! Why isn’t there fire on those hoops? Why isn’t she walking backwards, upside, while drinking tea on the tightrope?

The acts are flawless, effortless it seems. There is an act where a woman walks up a tightrope, yes, she walks UP a tightrope which is inclined diagonally. Please think about this one again. During the performance I have to admit I was not entirely over impressed, and proceeded to forget what I had seen for the rest of the weekend. It was only when I tripped on my way to class this morning on a sidewalk nicely flat and empty that I thought, now how did she do that again? And she does it so well, it looks ordinary. It wasn’t until there was the slightest slip, a nearly inaudible gasp and perhaps with some creativity of imagination on my part a glimpse of panic on her face when she was near the halfway point, that I realized the danger and wonder in some deceptively simple appearances.

In comparison to the other Cirque shows I have seen, Corteo is the least visually captivating in the sense that you are not kept on your toes for the whole two hours. This effect may be more pronounced in those who are veterans to Cirque shows. Even though you can enjoy the show at face value, Corteo actually demands more from the audience and I grew a deeper appreciation for it only after having seen it, thought about it, listened to the interviews from the directors and designers whose brainchild I had witnessed, and reframed my purely visual experience in thinking about the creative mission behind the production. So if you’re new to Cirque du Soleil, take advantage of the show before it leaves Boston, and if you’ve seen them already, take some time to read about the work and ideas before you go.

Rating: **1/2

Corteo plays in Boston until October 15th at Suffolk Downs. Student tickets are available for $40 on-line for Tuesday, Thursday and Friday matinee performances. The location is accessible via the blue line. More information can be found at

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