Dates and Venue 12 June 20 July 2008, 8pm | Grand Chapiteau at Concord Pacific Place

Reviewer John Jane


The Big Top goes hi-tech with Cirque du Soleil’s presentation of Corteo. Established nearly twenty-five years ago by Quebec street entertainers Guy Laliberte and Gilles St.Croix, the 'Le Cirque' has since become an extraordinary international phenomenon that offers top class entertainment for the entire family and still follows it’s original vision “To invoke, provoke and evoke the imagination.”

Corteo is the third full-scale production Cirque du Soleil has brought to Vancouver, following Alegria in 2003 and Varekai in 2006 and for my money it’s the best yet. This show provides all the magical elements (except wild animals) of the traditional circus. Amazing physical feats by acrobats, trapeze artists and juggling acts combine with outstanding musicians performing original music by Philippe Leduc and Maria Bonzanigo, who provide an Italian opera inspired score that was constant throughout the entire show.

Those of us who were initiated to the circus through Ringling Brothers would have found Le Grand Chapiteau (The Big Top) full of innovation. Gone is the sand and sawdust covered circus ring and replaced with a state-of-the-art stage, complete with outer rotating ring and runways at each end that run through the centre of the main tent, dividing the audience into two equal sections on either side.

Corteo (derived from the Italian word, cortege, meaning joyful procession) is just as visually sumptuous as previous Cirque productions, yet, differs in as much that it uses a poignant human story instead of a phantasmagoric fable to provide the vehicle for the spectacular acrobatic displays and comic routines. Corteo’s theme also provides an interesting subtext that subtly illustrates the margin between success and failure.

A sixty feet wide by forty feet high turquoise baroque print scrim is rolled up to reveal an aging clown lying on a brass bed. A parade of typical circus characters, acrobats, clowns and musicians all file past to pay what appears to be their last respects to a former colleague. The dying clown then falls into a soporific state as he envisions a celebration of his life at the occasion of his funeral.

While the storyline may, at first seem morbid, what follows next is one unbelievable act after another as we shadow the clown’s fertile imagination overseen by angels gliding over the stage by means of unseen motorized hoists.

The parade segues seamlessly into the first routine, in which four female gymnasts (including former Canadian Olympian, Marie-Michelle Faber) sporting “colourful” underwear dangle and dance on and through spinning crystal chandeliers.

The next act combines the art of comedy with the precision of acrobatics. The old clown, whimsically played by Pierre-Philippe Guay steps backs into his childhood for the “Bouncing Beds” act. These are no ordinary beds – the mattresses are actually rectangular trampolines on which half-dozen playful tumblers bounce and flip. Next, four performers speed around the stage “driving” 2 metre diameter alloy hoops.

Undoubtedly, one of the most jaw-dropping acts had to be “Tightwire” performed by Russian Anastasia Bykovskaya demonstrating unbelievable agility climbing upward in pointe shoes on a wire inclined at what seemed an impossible angle.

There is also entertaining comic relief provided by giant clown, Victorino Antonio Lujan who engages the audience before and during the show. Of course, Cirque’s clowns don’t just make the audience laugh; Uzeyer Novrusov is a master of balance and control as he climbs up and down a free-standing ladder, attempting to reach a high-flying angel.

Also outstanding are the two tiny clowns, Ukrainian brother and sister, Valentyna and Grigor Pahlevanyan. Valentyna and Pierre-Philippe Guay enthrall the crowd with their “Helium Dance” that has the diminutive “Clowness” riding giant helium-filled balloons out into the audience.

The evening ends on a wistful note and a final procession. Floating angels join the dead clown, who pedals a bicycle high above the stage towards that great circus in the sky. It's an image that will linger long after Le Grand Chapiteau has left town.

© 2008 John Jane