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Cirque du Soleil's 'Corteo'

Published on: May 03, 2008

I started to enjoy Corteo the minute I let go of my need for narrative coherence. Which is to say that the story tying the show together – a freshly dead clown reviews his life as a circus performer, accompanied by an entourage of angels – doesn’t always make perfect sense.

Watching the action, I had several “whut??” moments: A pair of clowns, seemingly in Scotland, dressed for golf and carrying a huge club, take a whack at a golf ball (which is really the head of a third performer). It was amusing, but most of the show’s action takes place in a circus setting and I kept thinking, why are they in Scotland? Golf? Whut?

Really, though, you go to a Cirque du Soleil show to see amazingly toned people in eyecandylicious costumes perform mind-boggling physical feats, and there’s plenty of that. A pair of women, wearing tap pants and over-the-knee stockings, drape themselves gracefully over chandeliers hung high off the ground. Beautiful. Acrobats use beds as a trampoline, jumping onto the headboards and balancing for a second before falling backward. Jugglers toss hoops at each so rapidly the eye can’t keep up. In one dreamlike sequence, trapeze artists, dressed in gauzy culottes that flutter like wings, spin head-over-heels at top speed across a long net. A woman -- dangling upside down in the air --supports her partner’s weight with her hair. 

In spite of a few opening-night errors, the athleticism and skill displayed by the performers was breathtaking. This is a circus, so there’s a bit of everything: jugglers, clowning, a tightrope walker, a ringmaster, a very small woman who floats over the audience powered by helium balloons. Costumes, in gorgeous and subtle colors, are drawn from number of historical periods, but the result is charming – cloche hats and long Depression-era dresses mix easily onstage with Pierrot costumes. Before the show starts, the two halves of the house are separated by a cherub-painted scrim that, along with flickering candelabras and gold accents, evokes a baroque sensibility.

It’s a terrific spectacle, in which every element (aside from that pesky story) works together seamlessly on all the senses. It’s not, however, a show for very young children. There's lots of silly onstage – a cascade of rubber chickens, an upside-down tightrope walker, a pair of faux horses – but it’s interspersed with extended acrobatics displays and musical performances, and more than a touch of sexiness. At these ticket prices, older kids who appreciate what’s happening are a better audience: my 13-year-old kept turning to me with a look of amazement and saying, “Did you see that? How’d they do that?”

If you go

Corteo plays through June 1 at Marymoor Park in Redmond. Tuesdays, Wednesdays 8 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays 4 p.m., 8 p.m.; Sundays 1 p.m., 5 p.m. $38.50-$90. Link here to buy tickets. Expect traffic congestion and leave yourself plenty of time -- if you're late, you won't be admitted until there's a break in the action.

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