Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Cirque du Soleil's Corteo
Comes to San Francisco

Also see Richard's reviews of The Women and Prelude to a Kiss

Cirque du Soleil brings its new production of Corteo to the SBC Park, Third Street at Mission Rock, San Francisco. This unusual production will be playing underneath the blue and yellow Grand Chapiteau through January 8th. This does not look like a typical Cirque du Soleil show; there are no beautifully colored forests or exotic costumes in a fantasy land as in past productions. The characters in this production are real human beings trying various acrobatic and gymnastic feats.

Corteo is Italian for "cortage," which is a joyous procession, a festive parade imagined by a clown. The clown (Mauro Mozzani) pictures his own funeral taking place in a carnival atmosphere, watched over by flying, quietly caring angels. Line Tremblay, the show's director and creator, has retained Daniele Finzi Pasca, founder of Swiss clowning troupe Teatro Sunil, to create a special show that foregoes the previous splendor of Cirque du Soleil productions. She has created an archetypical image with humans that look shabby instead of the extrinsic persons we are used to seeing.

Corteo puts side by side the large with the small, the ridiculous with the tragic, and the magic of perfection with the charm of imperfection. The production highlights the strength and fragility of the clown as well as his wisdom and kindness. It is a timeless celebration in which illusion teases reality.

Corteo is performed on a large divided stage with each half of the audience facing the other half. There are two turntables built into the stage which is about 104 feet long, and the track is almost 41 feet long. Before the show starts the audience sees a large curtain that shows the Corteo Procession. It is based on "The Grand Parade: Portrait of the Artist as Clown" at the National Gallery of Canada. The curtain was painted by Jean Rabasse and is displayed on both sides of the stage. There are two enormous baroque style "roll drop" curtains that are 58 feet wide and 40 feet high. On top of each side there are huge organ pipes and an overture starts with an organ concerto morphing into a procession of clowns and folks marching across the stage as the main curtain assents. The orchestra is playing typical Cirque type music and they carry the "dead clown" to the center of the stage. There are angels all in white with white wings flowing overhead as the clown is awaiting transport to Heaven.

The Cirque production opening has three magnificent crystal chandeliers that would put the Phantom of the Opera light fixtures to shame. They rise to reveal aerialists twirling overhead performing aerial acrobatics that sway and spin. They represent the Dead Clown's former loves. It is an amazing opening. Immediately the Dead Clown is whisked away and we see a gaggle of young kids playing in their grandparents' room. Six artists jump on two big beds that move on rotating platforms and perform acrobatic feats, each more daring than the last.

The visual and aural production follows with phantasmal acrobatic, comedic and dramatic acting on the part of the large assembly of artists. Scenes change rapidly as each group performs amazing feats with heart-stopping skill. Some are almost unbelievable, such as Anastasia Bykovskaya balancing in pointe shoes, climbing a wire upward at an angle that borderlines on the impossible. Uzeyer Novrusov climbs an unsupported ladder and traverses the stage. Outstanding are the two tiny performers Valentyna and Grigor Pahlevanyan who do a wonderful balance and human sculpture act bathed in blue light. Valentyna is also buoyed up by three helium balloons and she drifts above the heads of the audience. She floats back onto the stage by members of the audience as they touch her tiny feet toward the stage.

As in all good productions there is a downside, including a whistling act by the ringmaster that goes on much too long and a show within a show featuring Valentyna and Pahlevanyan doing a commedia dell'arte spoof of Romeo and Juliet in a puppet theatre located in the middle of the stage. It also goes on much too long and it falls flat at the end. The ending is not as exciting as prior Cirque productions, with a display of gymnasts on high bars being entertaining.

Cirque du Soleil's Corteo production has a Federico Fellini feel about the whole production. The production plays through January 8th, 2006. It moves to San Jose on January 19th through March 5th then to Phoenix for a limited run. The production will play in New York during April 2006. Tickets are available at or by calling Admission Network at 1-877-695-8472.

Photo: Marie-Reine Mattera

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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