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Corteo's Heavenly Procession

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 20, 2006 3:00PM

Corteo is Cirque du Soleil’s fourth engagement at the United Center, and the company returns to Parking Lot K a worldwide sensation, one of the most formidable stage entertainment empires in the world. Its six touring shows will, by year’s end, be seen in four continents by hundreds of thousands. Cirque has staked out a small chunk of Las Vegas with LOVE, their Beatles tribute premiering at The Mirage last month, joining three other resident shows in the retooled City of Sin.

So last weekend we strolled past the frolicking angels and into the big tent wondering whether this mercurial company deserves all that acclaim, or whether success has bloated the beast. What a relief to see the biggest show in town actually live up to the hype! Corteo is a larger than life production vaulting the bar for circus acts even higher.

cirquejuggling.jpgIts stars are an incredible cast of physical performers, presenting stunt after stunt like a succession of holiday gifts. Attempting to describe this sensation necessarily falls short, like trying to describe a 360-degree slam dunk to someone who doesn’t watch basketball. Jugglers threw bowling pins and disks quicker than we thought possible. A tightrope walker scales an impossible angle to reach her summit.

There’s also a story, by the way, about a clown imagining his own funeral as a carnival of joyful spectacle, amazing stunts, and feverish musical accompaniment. The etiquette of the solemn opening processional quickly devolves into a frenzied party where ladies swing from massive chandeliers, elegantly risking life and limb (or extended hospital stays). Corteo is full of such juxtapositions. Diminutive performers frolic with giants. Romantic coupling to savory flamenco beats precedes a hilariously disastrous Shakespearean play within a play.

Corteo is more than acrobatics. Hours of carefully considered stagecraft pulled together an otherworldly set, a versatile band steering us through subtle mood shifts, and an accomplished technical crew who took, and deserved, a rare curtain call. Storytelling isn’t the company’s strong suit, but thankfully we were rarely distracted from the spectacle.

cirquebeds.jpgAnd the spectacle left us with so many memories:

  • Six mischevious “kids” bounding between 2 mattresses and bedframes
  • A hula hooping tightrope walker
  • Some schtick involving two golfers, an absurdly oversized club, and a lady with a white dimpled head
  • Elaborate gymnastics on the seesaw, one part comic confrontation, another part teetering showmanship
  • A rubber chicken storm

Cirque de Soleil’s Corteo is at the United Center’s Parking Lot K at Damen and Adams, Tuesdays – Sundays through August 27. Runtime is approximately 2 hours, 45 minutes with a 30 minute intermission and the tent, mercifully, is air conditioned. Tickets are $35-85, VIP Tapas Rouge tickets are much, much more. Find more information and book reservations at the show's website.

Photos via Cirque du Soleil.