When Cirque du Soleil announced that their reimagined ultra-smash hit Corteo was coming to the Meridian Centre in July, ticket demand was so high that extra shows were necessary to add.
This is only one stop for Corteo on a greater North American arena tour, and it marks the first time the renowned Quebec-based, international circus troupe is bringing a production to St. Catharines. As it turns out, the Niagara region has not been immune to this global phenomena.
From its humble beginnings as a street performance group in 1984, Cirque du Soleil has emerged as a mega-machine of commercial entertainment, producing visual spectacle after high-quality visual spectacle. In 2018 alone, the company will present 19 unique shows in several arena and big-top tours across five continents, as well as a series of residencies; seven in Las Vegas and one in Mexico.
As a first-time attendee at a Cirque du Soleil production, I was curious to see whether the company could live up to its immense hype. Luckily for me, opening night in Oshawa demonstrated that Cirque du Soleil offers no false advertising: Corteo is lush, electric, and features a slew of artists from all over the world, all with fabulous athleticism.
Corteo hooks its premise on a glorious clown funeral procession for the dearly-departed Mauro the Clown (played by Mauro Mozzani of Italy). As Mauro watches in a dream-like state, the mourners perform a series of high-stakes acrobatics including trampoline, trapeze, and teeterboards, invoking Mauro’s life-long memories in the process. If the concept seems grim, fear not: the funereal framework merely provides a circumstance for these extraordinary events to occur. Corteo is not about death. It is about the joy of being alive.
Fittingly, Corteo is experiencing something of a second-life itself. The show initially opened in 2005 in Montreal under the signature Cirque du Soleil big-top tent. As Maxwell Batista, Cirque’s Publicist and Spokesperson said, Corteo was re-developed as an arena production to provide new communities such as St. Catharines first-time access to the production.
Julie Dionne, a Quebec-based dancer and circus-performer, performed in the show both at its conception, and in its current inception and in its current iteration. Although it is still the same Corteo at heart, she said that the arena setting has allowed for a tighter, more dynamically paced version of the show.
Dionne performs as part of a quartet of chandelier dancers in the show’s first act. High off the ground, Dionne slinks herself across the glittering chandelier as it swings back and forth above Mauro’s head. As I watched Dionne hang from her feet, mine began to sweat. When I tell her this, she defered with a laugh: “Being in the air is where I belong”.
It comes as no surprise to learn that Dionne is an adrenaline junkie, as most of her cast-mates must be. My sweat is assuaged, however, as Dionne assured me of the strict safety precautions undertaken both by Cirque du Soleil, and by the individual artists. When learning a new trick, a series of steps — training wheel stages, if you will — must be cleared before an artist gets far off the ground. Safety is ingrained within the impeccably oiled machine that is Cirque du Soleil.
Indeed, high production value is as much a part of Cirque du Soleil’s identity as are feats of athleticism. Batista was eager to share with me some of the more impressive stats from the tour. The set, which is comprised of interlocking pieces for quick 12 hour assembly, is transported in 80-90 containers split amongst 12 trucks. He also shared with me the secret of how performers get from one end of the arena to the other between scenes: a makeshift conveyor belt comprised of mattresses and a zip-line.
Batista and I agreed that Corteo is a special show that at once captures the magic of childhood, the inevitability of mortality, and the privilege of existence. If you haven’t yet experienced the magic of Cirque du Soleil, take it from me: this is a good place to start.