nytheatre.com review by Maggie Cino
April 29, 2006
Cirque du Soliel is a well-oiled machine that mass-produces rapture, and they have a heck of a product. I recommend taking New York Waterways’ ferry to the Randall’s Island venue; a sunset boat ride up the East Side of Manhattan is the perfect prelude to the out-of-this-world experience ahead.
This year’s offering is Corteo, or “cortege” in Italian. To save a trip to the dictionary, the English definition of “cortege” is: a train of attendants, as of a distinguished person; a retinue; a ceremonial procession; a funeral procession. Cirque uses all those images to spice the regular menu of human strength and dexterity pushed to inconceivable limits. Traditionally Cirque is a one ring circus, but Corteo pushes the edges of the stage as well. The familiar circle is stretched into a corridor that divides the audience in half, a setup that automatically turns the action into an ongoing parade.
Before the show begins, the performance area is covered by a diaphanous curtain with illustrations of angels, a kind of Florentine frieze as interpreted by Hallmark. Behind it fallen chandeliers and a bed are faintly visible. The scrim rises slowly and the first parade begins. There are giants, midgets, angels floating like Christmas ornaments across the dome of the stage. The procession goes by the bed, where Mauro Mazzoni, the lead clown, is waving. Hm, what’s that about? But the production doesn’t allow much time for questions, and none at all for answers.
Getting right down to business, four female acrobats strip down to old-fashioned underwear and do a routine on the candelabras, spinning and twisting and flying. This irreverence is carried over into a jumping-on the bed act, where pigtailed “little girls” bounce around with buff and sturdy “little boys,” climbing up bed frames, balancing, and tumbling back down again. And there is Mozzani in his bed again, getting angel wings. Is he dead? Hm, he comes dangerously close to plummeting through a trapdoor before flying away! This is followed by a spectacular hoop juggling act, another clown walking upside-down on a tightrope holding a candelabra, and four people dressed like donkeys who comically keep forgetting they’re dressed like donkeys. Suddenly the ringleader shouts, “This is supposed to be a funeral!”
But despite this brand new information, there’s no pause in the action. Shoes travel across the stage without people in them, a woman in a sequined red outfit who might be the devil herself ascends a diagonal tightrope, and look, there’s an angel giving Mazzoni a beautiful gold and blue costume. Is that part of the dead clown funeral plot? Never mind, because two other clowns are about to play golf with a woman’s head, and look! One of the clowns is now the ball! But wait, a live marionette drops out of the sky, ready to play with Mazzoni who is, curiously, wearing a bathing suit. What happened to the fancy costume? But that can wait, because here are some muscular men in tutus and some ribbon dancers! And then the action slows into a beautiful sequence where Valentyna Pahlevanyan, who can’t be much more than three feet tall, is harnessed to a bouquet of clear helium balloons and gently floats all over the tent as Mozzani stands onstage, begging the audience to guide her back. Then an incredible teeterboard act, and . . . it’s over? Oh no! That’s just Act One!
There is a half-hour intermission to wander around the cool spring night visiting little tents that sell popcorn, wine, or souvenirs. And then the action begins again. This act is full of music, the performers whistling, drumming, working with the live orchestra that’s been playing throughout the show. Second act visual highlights are a ladder balancing act, a rain of rubber chickens, midgets performing in a tiny theatre, and the truly astonishing (even in this context) aerial duo of Dymytro Grygovow and Olesia Shulga. And there’s a final procession, the cast is singing, and Mozzani is biking through the sky. The audience is on their feet, cheering, the lights come on . . . and . . . did he make it to heaven? Is he going back to earth? Who cares! That was great!
And on the return boat ride, Manhattan looks different, and it’s not just the view from the East River. Even back in the urban parade, the city stays new, at least for a while. Cirque du Soliel has an absolute corner on the pure amazement market; no service provider in North America can even come close.