Review: Cirque du Soleil Puts a Life of Wonder Before Our Eyes With Cortéo

Cirque du Soleil is always a treat to watch. There are acrobatics, aerial thrills, and juggling all done with a full serving of whimsy. Cirque is known for tributes and homage that delve into fantastical interpretations. Love took the audience on a psychedelic journey with the music of the Beatles. Michael Jackson ONE was a fantasy about the Jackson persona with a very realistic Bubbles the Chimp. Cirque’s new show, Cortéo, is a journey into the afterlife of a clown and it is a blast. Cortéo was created and is directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, a former gymnast who volunteered with terminally ill patients in India before returning to the world of theater arts.

Mauro the clown lay dying on his bed attended by angels and in his reverie of death, he sees not a white light, but a courtége that sums up his life in the circus world. I should clarify that this is not an American-style clown that sometimes has a sinister edge. This is a world of angels, childhood memories, little people in a Tom Thumb wedding, and aerial performances that made me catch my breath.

Cirque du Soleil ensemble. Photo by Maja Prgomet.

Mauro is accompanied on his journey by the Giant Clown, the White Clown, the mischievous August Clown, and others from his life in the circus. Cortéo celebrates the art of the clown and of the circus as a band of people usually on the fringes of society who dedicate their lives to their art.

Cirque du Soleil reaches back to the carnival traditions of Western Europe. The music is a gorgeous pastiche of classical, jazz, and Romany influences sung in different languages. The Ringmaster in Cortéo can whistle any tune and has a duel with the violin player. Accordion and violin evoke the folk music played at carnivals.

Cirque du Soleil ensemble. Photo by Maja Prgomet.

The clown has memories of being at his grandmother’s house jumping on the beds; roughhousing becomes a trampoline act. Cyr wheel acrobats spin like a centrifuge—seeming to float on the ground. He is accompanied by a miniature Clowness who floats above the audience attached to a huge bundle of helium balloons. The Clowness is dressed in an ornate 18th-century-style dress with an elaborate hairdo.

The Giant clown appears dressed in Scottish attire with a giant golf club. His beleaguered caddy is charged with getting the ball on the tee. Golf Ball comes alive and razzes the Giant and the caddy. It is a surreal comic bit that fits perfectly in Mauro’s afterlife. Little details remind me of Sergio Aragonés in the margins of Mad Magazine. Shoes skitter across the stage without people wearing them. Are they ghost shoes or sleight of hand? I think a bit of both.

Cirque du Soleil ensemble. Photo by Maja Prgomet.

Acrobats fly and are thrown through the air in drop-defying antics. Jugglers catching hoops to Aram Ilyich’s “Sabre Dance” took me back to the plate-spinning guy on The Ed Sullivan Show. I watched realizing that Cortéo was dancing my life before my eyes. It goes back to a more innocent time when I believed in magic and angels. I highly recommend Cirque du Soleil’s Cortéo for 2 hours and 20 minutes of escape from the sinister clowns that populate the world outside of the big top.

The amazing set for Cortéo is designed by Jean Rabasse. The set is divided in two and there is no bad seat in the house. Rabasse was inspired by a show at the National Gallery of Canada called The Great Parade: Portrait of the Artist as Clown.

Cortéo played through June 4 at NOW Arena, Prairie Stone Parkway in Hoffman Estates. More information is available atéo.

Did you enjoy this post and our coverage of Chicago’s arts scene and sometimes beyond? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation by PayPal. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!

Kathy D. Hey
Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.