“Corteo”: What Circus Dreams May Come

Presented by Cirque du Soleil 
Directed and Created by Daniele Finzi Pasca and Line Tremblay
Music Composed and Directed by Jean-Francois Cote, Phillipe LeDuc, and Maria Bonzanigo

June 19th – June 30th, 2019
Agganis Arena
925 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
Corteo on Facebook

Review by Gillian Daniels

(Boston, MA) Mauro, the Dreamer Clown, tells the audience, “I dreamed of my funeral.” Except it’s no dream; this character is actually on his deathbed. A funeral becomes a party and the party becomes a circus. Angels fly on wires above, shoes walk across the stage on their own, and our narrator relives childhood memories while he’s fitted for wings. The somber frame narrative balances the rest of the show, which is cheeky, saccharine, and full of dream imagery that seems to have been cut, raw, from a sleeper’s mind.

For Cirque du Soleil veterans, the circus acts will be familiar. Trampolines, juggling, teeterboard, hoops–you’ve seen it before. But have you seen it with a more Spanish vibe, complete with a brief hula-hoop tribute to the opera, Carmen? Or with early twentieth-century imagery, women in long underwear and men wearing shoes with snaps? 

Wait, yes? You have? 

All of those? 

Oh.

Well, fit into the memories of Mauro, most of the acts take on a peculiar level of humanity. Acrobats in pajamas that look like they came from the last turn of the century bounce on trampolines that are tricked out as giant beds; women meant to represent Mauro’s former lovers scale the chandeliers that hang above his bed and swing back and forth; an aerial dancer simultaneously sings while yo-yo-ing on a skein of cloth; a man, initially appearing to be blind, climbs a set of ladders to offer a rose to an angel. With the grim frame narrative delightfully elastic, the pieces end up fitting together in a strange portrait of a jolly elderly gentleman’s fraying subconscious. 

Most of the imagery flows together by association, but not everything fits. The Giant Clown has an act where he attempts to go golfing, the golf ball in question being a woman’s head. Even as I was pleased when the golf ball outwits him, the moment sticks out strangely from the rest of the show. So does a miniature rendition of Romeo and Juliet in Teatro Intimo, which runs a little long without having more than one joke (the joke is: the little people in it are little and the big people in it are big). The show’s humor eventually gets repetitive.

I also found some frustration with the venue. I found I missed the tents that Cirque du Soleil has used in the past for their Boston shows. The staff at Agganis Arena seemed overwhelmed and frazzled by the audience numbers.

Yet there’s still a magic to so much of Corteo. I was especially delighted by the Helium Dance, in which Mauro chats with the Clowness, Anita, a little person who, attached to several enormous balloons, floats over the audience. She lands on shoulders and hands, happily requesting a push every once in a while. Her enthusiasm is infectious.

Fans who’ve gone to Cirque du Soleil before know how it goes, and yet, there’s still the heart palpitation while watching a woman swing between gymnasts bars fifty feet off the ground. I’ve seen several of the company’s performances at this point, but I can’t bring myself to feel jaded. It’s still lovely. And while many of these shows have tried for acts that feel like dreams, none have been as seamlessly ethereal as Corteo.

Much like the century-old newspaper comic Little Nemo in Slumberland, Mauro is the main character surrounded by clowns, beds that become animate, and an endless circus. Unlike Nemo, however, it’s heavily implied that he won’t be waking from this particular dream. This is about his eventual ascension to the afterlife. He’ll be forever cavorting with acrobats with clowns. From the response of the kid behind me when the curtain came down, who cried, “Not yet! I want them to give me more,” this sounds like a lovely fate.

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