After a series of escalating personal setbacks, ranging from the receipt of film festival and grant panel rejection letters to coordinating the appointment with an exterminator to rid my house of bedbugs, I was at the end of my rope. I needed an escape, a guided tour of someone else's imaginary realm, one that would help me completely disconnect from the harsh reality of having to throw out half the furniture and practically burn our clothes in order to rid my household of the city's newest and most diabolical pest.
When my friend Dennis called with free tickets to the Cirque Du Soleil, I could not pass up the opportunity to spend the afternoon in a dream world, rather than my own dreary reality. Even though it seems cliché at this point, I was always one of those kids who imagined running away with the circus and fell in love with the lure of carnivals, sideshows and films that depicted this sub-culture, like Tod Browning's seminal film Freaks. I had attended the Cirque Du Soleil a couple of times in the late nineties and always enjoyed the spectacle, daredevil feats of the performers, and creepy edge that characterized the shows themes and costumes.
As I made my way downtown, the dark clouds and long walk along the stormy bay seemed like an appropriate prologue to attending the Cirque Du Soleil. In the distance, the stunning yellow and blue striped tent clashed against the grey storm clouds that rolled across the sky and I felt a surge of excitement mingled with anticipation. Once inside the main performance tent, the cold and rainy day disappeared. The tent was warm and cozy, and gilt chandeliers imbued the space with a shimmering golden light. Staged in a round, the space was divided by a beautifully painted scrim draped across the middle of the set, which transformed the cavernous space into an intimate environment. Everything in the room sparkled in a fairytale sort of way. The combination of lighting, set design and props created a truly dreamlike environment and set the stage for the performance of Corteo.
The show begins with a wild funeral procession as dreamt by a clown lost somewhere between death and dreaming. All the performers and characters are introduced and the enchanting fantasy world of the show is nicely established in this opening sequence. From there, a plethora of talented and engaging performers lit up the stage and delivered a show with non-stop action. From the four women performing aerial acrobatics hanging from giant chandeliers, to the tightrope artist walking on point shoes above our heads and the flying trapeze artists soaring through the air, the strength of Corteo lies in the talent of the individual performers. But also in the ability of Cirque Du Soleil to cultivate the aesthetic of the show, combining the lineage of stock circus characters and the influence of performance art, with the high energy and daring feats of the street performers who started the Cirque Du Soleil over twenty five years ago.
Only after I walked out of the circus tent, did I have a moment to reflect on the numerous elements that resulted in the shows creation. Each act is devised, choreographed, costumes designed, props built, music written and timed, performers staged, sets built and rigged and then there are the safety concerns that need to be dealt with at all times. It is an amazing achievement to put together a show of this magnitude and still maintain the dream-like reverie of a fantasy world. The only weakness of Corteo lies in its attempt at humor, which fails often and miserably. The comedy set pieces simply fall flat and are unnecessary in a two hour plus show. But this is a small misstep when considering all the other elements of the show that are pure magic.
Living in a modern city seems to disconnect us from the possibility of magic, since we are expected to be tuned into reality at all times. So more than a diversion, the circus provides a place of imagination and endless possibility that modern life has dissolved from our daily interactions and existence.Corteo is a romantic creation, but sometimes a little magic and fantasy is necessary to make it through the day.
Corteo's San Francisco run ends January 8,2006.
Visit Cirque du Soleil (at cirquedusoleil.com).