Something New Under The Soleil
Cirque du Soleil's Corteo is a Carnival of Emotions

By Lee Valentine Smith

Since 1984, Cirque du Soleil has been upping the wow factor with an impressive series of visually stunning productions, often staged in unusual venues. The Canadian entertainment company continues the tradition with Corteo, an unusually emotive story which is anchored by the death of a clown named Mauro. Centered around the funeral, the show celebrates his life with a series of scenarios of his life and circus career.

It's not the typical circus show and with this edition of the popular attraction, even the site has changed. Corteo will be presented as an arena show, not in the familiar big-top tent that is a familiar sight for many downtown commuters. Instead of the usual intown location, this production will be presented at suburban Infinite Energy Center.

A visual and aural treat, Cortero doesn't wallow in the sad aspects of death, the ensemble of amazingly agile acrobats, contortionists and tumblers present the many aspects of the late clown's life as a literally uplifting parade of fond memories.

The Quebec-based company, once funded by a government grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, tours the world with multi-cultural troupes of superlative performers, adapt in not only traditional circus-style entertainment but truly artistic physical expression.

INsite spoke with two members of the company, spokesman Maxwell Batista and performer Alexendr Yudintsev by phone from a recent tour stop in Florida.

Every production of Cirque du Soleil seems to outdo the previous one. What is the most exciting aspect of Corteo?

Maxwell: This is a unique viewing experience. For some shows, the audience is sitting around the stage, but for Corteo, there are no walls hiding the backstage. The creator wanted the audience to feel what its like to be onstage and see the reactions of people who was seeing the amazing things going on, also on stage. It's a much more intimate experience and there's nowhere in the arena where you'd have a bad view of the stage.

The storyline is definitely unique.

Yes, the story is a clown's own funeral and all the performers who reenact moments from his life and show all the amazing skills they have. It's very inspiring and the timeline is a tribute to the history of the circus, but not with creatures, these are human beings in a story set in the 19th century. It's certainly different than any other show we've done. Since it's a tribute to the memory of a circus performer, there are both traditional and non-traditional circus acts that are featured throughout the performance.

In the wrong hands this could be a very depressing show, due to the central theme of the funeral.

There are a number of kinetic emotions in this production. The storyline of the show goes through so many feelings. Yes, it is a funeral but it's not a sad ceremony, it's a celebration of life. A funeral is about remembering all the great things the person did in their life. The main idea of a funeral is to gather and remember. And in this case, the performers are remembering all the greatest moments of a life. In Corteo, you see all of his greatest moments. When he was a child, you see him playing in his backyard. Then you see him on his bed, using it as a trampoline as we all have once in our lives. So the beds become trampoline. Then we see all the love he's had in his life, flying over the stage on a chandelier. So the feelings in the show go the whole range of emotions. When you leave the arena after two hours of Corteo, you leave moved and touched, so it's an uplifting experience for people of all ages. It's a lifetime happening in two hours of a show.

Getting the show from city to city must be an extraordinary challenge.

It is indeed. We travel with all of our equipment in 21 trucks. 110 people travel with us and 51 are performers of different nationalities, about 60 people work backstage, 34 technicians for sound, lighting, rigging, props, carpenters and wardrobe. We hire 100 people in every city to help us put the show together. It takes about 12 hours to put everything together, the day before the show begins in each city. It's a very intense routine and with the arena shows, we can go to even more cities and locations that we could with the big top show.

A lot of people don't realize the amount of preparation that goes into every performance. Alexendr, what is a typical day like on tour with the show?

Alexendr: It's all day. I'll have breakfast and then it's on to work. I'll warm up for an hour. Then an hour and a half of conditioning for my trampoline act, then another hour of jumping. Then another hour of preparation. After that, another hour of make-up.

When did you begin the path that led to being a performer in this show?

When I was six, really. In Kazakhstan, I loved to jump and started tumbling when I was in school and competed in World Championships in 2003 and 2005. At age 20, my coach and I decided to make a video tape and I sent it Cirque. I mailed it to Montreal at the headquarters and I got a phone call the week after. That was 2007 and I joined as teeterboard and cyr wheel artist. Then I went to trampoline act and doing characters. Three years later, I began the Bouncing Beds act and start performing as Clown August.

As a clown, can you do your own stage business, or is everything strictly choregraphed?

I'm lucky. As a clown, I have the right to do all sorts of different things. I can go into the audience and sort of mess around with them. I have no restriction. For Corteo, we don't have choreography, except to know that at a certain point I have to be here and at a certain point, I need to move to there. But the moves are up to me. It keeps it always new and it keeps us awake and fresh from day to day.

Cirque du Solei: Corteo will run from August 29 - September 2 at the Infinite Energy Arena. For more information, please visit cirquedusoleil.com.

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