Le Cirque du Soleil is back in Ottawa, this time with a show called Corteo already seen by 8 million people, this time not in a tent but remounted in the huge arena of the Canadian Tire Centre, a space which entirely changes the typical circus format, one of the trademarks of the Cirque.

The arena with sweeping richly decorated curtains and dazzling chandeliers (not all theatrical illusions of course) that slice the arena in half and create a two-sided proscenium arch with the audience sitting on both sides is transformed into several extraordinary landmarks of European performance.

First, it suggests the stage of the Palais Garnier, the turn of the Century opera space in the center of Paris that becomes the original home of the Phantom of the Opera, the horribly deformed musician hiding behind the mask that hides his suffering for the love of his talented young protégé. The curtains along the sides also suggest the base of the Tour Eiffel, that huge twisted metal structure which defined the year of the Universal Exhibition in 1889 Paris, but that today, hide all the exquisite technical machinery that has the performers swinging across the sky, leaping into the heavens and the musicians playing from their corners set up with their instruments, microphones, their sound and recording equipment that make the whole arena quiver with delight…However, apart from the soaring romanticism that comes with the reworking of these late 19th Century and early 20th Century landmarks of Paris, we also sense there is a debt to some more recent Italian cinema such as Fellinis work 8 ½.

The very idea of the Corteo, the “Cortege,” the parade that leads Mauro, the dying clown, back into a land of memory, and dreams and lost desires where he was filled with longing for certain beautiful young women swooning on the chandeliers, hanging from the long elastic swings that swooped down from the ceiling or the evenings filled with the sounds of a tenor voice calling out his love for the women in those beautiful flowing dresses, or those angels flying across the stage carried along by their white fluffy wings whisks us back to Fellini’s own memories. A whole world of inescapable desire is brought into view, captivating the older spectators, titillating the younger ones.

Fellini’s world of upper-class theatrical showmanship seemed to appear when Mauro, the dying clown is suddenly escorted off the stage by the fantasmatic cortege of life. That exciting parade of those carnivalesque creatures with the tubas pumping, the horns blowing, the clowns gyrating, and the costumes glittering and glowing in all their beauty. All the musicians, the actors, the acrobats, and singers, tripping across the space escorting the clown into the “other” world as he slowly leaves this world. At that point, he is also returned to his childhood as children fill his heart with happiness and brings him great joy…All those wonderful adventures that might have happened or didn’t in fact happen came rolling back to him. All those beautiful creatures he longed to love, just as director Fellini rememberd his life and returned to his past to catch all the occasions he missed or all the women who threw themselves on him, turning him into a lion tamer whipping the females into subjugation as the ringmaster pulls out his whip, leftover from the period when animals ruled the roost, controlling his circus talents keeping the performers in check, because in fact, they all come from the world of the circus.

Then there were moments of great poetry: the midget flying over the audience holding on to her helium-filled balloons as the audience members gave her feet a push and sent her flying again without any link to the ground. Or the feats of great virtuosity which made the audience gasp in astonishment as the acrobats and the jumpers and the trapeze artists fly through the air, whirled around the bars, flung each other across the stage without any net below. Part II brought us closer to a more familiar circus event and those daredevil creatures whizzing about overhead even suggested there was a local competition to see which group was the most macho of them all

And all the while, the real angels flew overhead, watching over the performers, watching over Mauro as he watched his own life flow by before him, and as we watched this whole spectacle unfold between heaven and earth on a theatre set that really wasn’t one but that created a magnificent illusion of something between circus, theatre, dance, cinema, athletics, this mass of creatures taking possession of a space defined by lighting, and magic and music, plunged us into something that would possibly transform our lives…

Thank you Daniele Finzi Pasca and the whole team from the Cirque du Soleil…

This article originally appeared in Capital Critics’ Circle on June 28, 2018, and has been reposted with permission.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.

This post was written by Alvina Ruprecht.

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