The Junk Food of Writing

Saturday, October 21, 2006

With deep “Corteo,” Cirque De Soleil doesn’t clown around

In a brief scene within Cirque de Soleil’s Boston presentation of Corteo, an angel attempts to patiently teach the clown protagonist (Mauro Mozzani) how to fly. He is donned with makeshift wings and after a few gleeful moments of flight, he suddenly plunges towards the ground. The clown stabilizes only four feet above the stage and, after some flustered hesitation, flies back up to try again.

This cyclical pattern of ups and downs mirrors the structure of Corteo and, more broadly, life itself. Cirque de Soleil – Corteo is, essentially, an abstract examination of the bittersweet experience of being – dazzlingly documenting its jubilant highs and harsh lows.

Mauro Mozzani, steering the show as the nameless lead clown, seems to believe that the bitter tragedies of existence outweigh the mirth, since the play opens with him contemplating suicide. The non-linear narrative begins with Mozzani envisioning his well-attended funeral – “corteo” is an Italian term which translates into “procession.” The subsequent vignettes are a loose collection of symbolic, nostalgic introspections upon his past.

Despite the omnipresence of angels, this reflection upon a clown’s life is, thankfully, much more similar to Bob Fosse’s conceptual and insightful All That Jazz than Frank Capra’s schmaltzy It’s a Wonderful Life.

In an exuberant scene of adolescent tomfoolery, a handful of younger actors recreate a memory of pillow-fighting and bed-jumping. The pillows fly fast and the cast flips high in the air. The trampolines, which are artfully disguised in the beds, give the acrobats the height to perform their fantastic feats. The scene works twofold, as most do; it is an aesthetic wonder and it also captures the essence of childhood: unbridled joy.

The key tableau in Corteo, however, occurs near the middle; colorful, manic characters become uncontrollable with ecstasy until the ringmaster forcefully reminds them that they are attending a funeral. This prompts them to pause and invert their gleeful smiles. This most exposes the subtext of Corteo – in life, melancholy is penetrated by bliss, but bliss is ultimately punctuated with melancholy. The poignant and brilliantly staged finale proves that death does not always have to be morose, though.

is quite a technical achievement, but since every stunt is performed seamlessly, it appears to be pure magic that runs the show. Beds, bicycles, angels and clowns casually soar high over the stage. Shoes scurry across the floor without a human inhabiting them. Contortionists dangle from chandeliers raised fifty feet above the ground. There’s even a precious dwarf who acts as a human beach-ball.

is as well balanced as a tight rope walker. Not only is it an amalgam of choreography, gymnastics and slapstick comedy, but it is also a luminous and musical triumph.

There is much to feast your eyes and ears on simultaneously. Fortunately, the dexterous lighting acts as a guide for the wandering, hypnotized eye. Whatever you choose to focus on, your mouth is guaranteed to be gapping the whole time.

The multicultural mix of melodies perfectly complements Corteo’s multitude of diverse scenarios. The mid-song pauses are also equally effective – it’s the brief absence of sound that creates more palpable tension during breathtaking routines.

The visuals and music will astound throughout, but it is Corteo’s profound meaning that will resonate. Perhaps the dizzy feeling one may feel during the production is not simply due to its mesmerizing eye candy, but also the deep and empathetic observations it makes on someone else’s life. As Mozzani encounters people in his dream world, he often recognizes them as past acquaintances and shares a cathartic reunion with them. Although Corteo is an epic production, it’s delicately nuanced.

Cirque de Soleil is currently performing Corteo in the majestic blue and yellow big-top tent constructed in the parking lot of Suffolk Downs in East Boston. The creators, cast and crew deftly balance the inspired lunacy of the circus with the solemnity of the opera and the grace of ballet.

The whole event is spectacularly surreal and reminiscent of what a stage adaptation of a Federico Fellini film may resemble. Therefore, it is unsurprising that it bears such close similarity to Fellini’s 1963 masterpiece, 8 ½, which is a rumination on artistic frustration and a director’s life. As the anarchic, clown-filled denouement of that film suggests: life is a circus. The talents behind Corteo definitely agree.


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