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Cirque du Soleil Mesmerizes with the Must-See Cortéo

by Janet Jonus

Cirque du Soleil’s Cortéo bounds into Pittsburgh for an engagement at PPG Arena January 16th through the 20th.

Cirque du Soleil has made the following announcement: “We will be playing at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday (January 19th) and Sunday (January 20th) as scheduled. We will be monitoring the weather closely with the local authorities through the weekend. For any other questions, please contact the box office or our Customer Service team at 1-877-9-CIRQUE (1-877-924-7783)”

Cirque du Soleil has become a yearly fixture in Pittsburgh. We have welcomed many Cirque shows. FamilyFunPittsburgh are huge Cirque fans (we have seen 15 shows), and Corteo is one of our favorites. Corteo is a traditional Cirque show with unique twists and new acts not seen in Pittsburgh before. The stage is “in-the-round” with the audience seated on both sides of the arena. There is floor seating as well, creating an intimate environment for an arena show. There is not a bad seat in the house, and the entire audience is drawn into the performance (literally true during one act) making Corteo a must-see event for Pittsburgh families.

Cirque du Soleil, a Montreal-based company, are the creators of the contemporary, theatrical circus. This is not a traditional circus. Cortéo is a theatrical production with awe-inspiring athleticism and artistry. Cirque du Soleil’s hallmark is the limitless ability of the human body. Their acts challenge our perceptions of what is humanly possible set in a world of laughter and beauty.

“Cortéo” means “cortege” in Italian. A clown explores the concept of his own funeral set within the joyous atmosphere of Cirque du Soleil’s stage. Mauro, the Dreamer Clown, dreams of the end of his career and the end of his life. Surrounded by clowns, singers, athletes, and artists, Mauro ventures to a place between heaven and earth. Guided by The Little Angel, Mauro watches as his friends celebrate his life, loves, and experiences. The intricate costumes and amazing set provide the backdrop for the athletic acts.

The heart of every Cirque du Soleil production is the amazing athletic acts, and Cortéo doesn’t disappoint. Fifty-two artists from around the world perform acts of athleticism and artistry.

As Mauro dreams in his bed, the people of his past and present take to the stage in a funeral procession. (Not as depressing as it sounds, Cortéo is a celebration of life, not death, and it is highly likely most children will not see the show as a dream funeral. They will see it as a parade and a party.) Three beautiful chandeliers hang over the set. As the procession ends, four women stay to mourn Mauro. The women represent Love. They perform an intricate act above the stage in the chandeliers.

Mauro is then transported to his childhood in an act that children will love (and parents will rue). A troupe of enthusiastic “children” charge onto the stage with two Bouncing Beds. They proceed to jump, bounce, and flip as angels observe from above. The raucous act finally ends when Mr. Loyal admonishes the troupe with the parental trope, “Go to sleep NOW!” (A note to parents, your children will want to try this at home. Expect a lot of bed bouncing but you can tell them the “beds” are actually trampolines and NOT the beds they sleep on. It will save your mattresses and box springs.)

The simplicity of childhood is reflected in the Cyr Wheel – a basic circle manipulated by five artists in an amazing tapestry of action and precision. The Wheels become a tangent of the artist, twisting and turning through space. If you have not seen a Cyr Wheel act, this is the one to hold up as the best of the best.

The first solo act of the evening is the Suspended Pole. A young woman discovers the joy of movement on a pole suspended from the ceiling. As the pole dances through the air, the artist combines fluidity and strength as she challenges herself to ever-greater feats of skill.

Kids will love the Golf act that provides a funny break from all of the amazing feats of athleticism. The Giant Clown (reminiscent of Andre the Giant’s character in The Princess Bride), and his sidekick set up for a game of golf – with one small problem, the ball is alive and does not want to be smashed in the face!

Mauro returns to the stage reliving another moment of his childhood – a beach vacation. He makes a new circus friend, a Marionette who falls from the sky. As the Marionette and Mauro play ball together, he is drawn into the circus life that is his calling.

The Marionette scene melds into another nod to Mauro’s circus life. A Hula Hoop artist emerges on one of the bouncing beds joined by her circus troupe. As she enthralls the audience and her troupe, the circus comes to the stage. The White Clown welcomes the Mauro into the circus life.

Mauro is then transported to another one of his circus friends. The Clowness appears literally floating in the air, suspended only by four giant helium balloons. The Clowness flirtatiously plays with Mauro and the audience as she floats above the stage. In a unique game of “crowd-surfing”, The Clowness asks the audience to propel her around the arena. Mauro makes it into a game by challenging the two sides of the audience to do the best job. (The first side clearly won this competition. The second side barely kept the Clowness moving! Mauro lamented he was never going to get his friend back.) Children will love the child-like play of the Clowness.

Two crowds gather around a teeterboard (a specialized see-saw). The “country” folk challenge the “city” dwellers to a teeterboard competition. Each side cheers on their champions in the competition as the athletes top each other in with every flip. The action builds to a tense finale until a winner is crowned.

There is a twenty minute intermission for everyone to get up and move about. The first act lasted just over an hour, so little ones will need this break to run to the bathroom and stretch their legs.

Love is the theme for the opening of the second act. Long, white silks drop from the sky as a young woman entwines herself in the billowing tendrils while singing a haunting song. Mauro watches as she expresses her love and once again ascends to the sky.

The Clowns are back in a musical number highlighting the unique talents of the performers. Mr. Loyal (the “Bossy Clown”) is an accomplished whistler. The Giant Clown and Mauro play crystal glasses filled with water as the ensemble plays Tibetan Bowls in a gentle interlude.

Mauro’s circus-life takes over the stage with the Jugglers. The trio of jugglers manipulates pins, hoops, balls, and diablos is an energetic act of precision and artistry.

The Angel Clown appears in the heavens above the stage as her earthbound love watches. The man climbs an acrobatic ladder to get closer. The simple straight ladder is held in place by gravity and the skills of the acrobat himself. The artist demonstrates phenomenal skill and balance as he climbs higher and higher, finally reaching his love. (Imagine climbing a straight ladder without leaning it against anything or having anything to hold it up. This was the first time FamilyFunPittburgh has seen this incredible act.)

Mauro tries to create a theater troupe to present Romeo and Juliet with the help of his clown friends. The project quickly falls apart as the participants argue their way through the play descending into theater of the absurd while Mauro valiantly tries to keep it all on track. The FamilyFunKids picked this act as one of their favorites.

The Duo-Strap act is an awe-inspiring display of strength and equality. The man and woman switch places halfway through the act with the woman displaying strength lifting her male partner in soaring arcs high above the stage. The audience literally was sitting on the edge of their seats during the Duo-Straps.

The entire cast returns to the stage in a final funeral celebration for Mauro. Dozens of performers swing from high bars, including a square high bar in the center of the stage in an act called Tournik. The action continues as multiple performers flip and swing through an intricate routine set to rousing music and dance. In the end, Mauro cycles through the heavens with his angel wings in a final farewell to a life well-lived.

The on-stage acts are supported by an eight-piece musical ensemble. The live music reflects the diverse music of multiple areas and genres. From Parisian arias to classical music to Spanish Guitar, the music of Cortéo sets the scene and the mood throughout the show. The musicians themselves are at the base of the stage in four separate areas. (FamilyFunFact: The musicians cannot see each other or the stage. They are guided by the musical director through headsets.)

The show travels with a backstage crew of 34 technicians that includes four wardrobe assistants, carpenters, riggers, coaches, medical physiologists, and more. The set was designed specifically for Cortéo as most Cirque du Soleil shows are not in-the-round. The central curtains depict the “Cortéo Procession”. They were hand painted in France. They were inspired by diverse artists (Willette, Picasso, Tiepolo, Pelez and Knight) and done in a Baroque style. Two backstage areas flank the main stage and a unique transit-system is used to move the artists from one side of the stage to another.

Cortéo is truly a FamilyFun event. FamilyFunPittsburgh recommends Cortéo for children six and up. The show runs two hours with a twenty minute intermission. The second act is shorter than the first. The performance kept the children in the audience enthralled. FamilyFunPittsburgh suggests getting aisle seats with easy access (not on the floor) if sitting for an hour is a problem for your children. You can get up and move around if need be.

There were limited amenities open in PPG Arena for the show. The Key Club was open with some food options including pizza, nachos, sandwiches, ice cream, and popcorn. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are available. Parts of the PPG Arena concourse are blocked off as they are “backstage” areas to accommodate the in-the-round staging. Bathroom lines got long in the early minutes of the intermission but were manageable in the last ten minutes with little to no waiting. There are two Cirque du Soleil souvenir stands. They were not crowded before the show but had lines after the show.

Cortéo plays at PPG Arena January 16th through the 20th. Showtime on Wednesday the 16th, Thursday the 17th, and Friday the 18th is at 730PM. Show times on Saturday the 19th are 330PM and 730PM. Show times on Sunday the 20th are 100PM and 500PM. Tickets range in price from $54 per person to $140 per person. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Box Office.

There is public parking at the Arena. You can reserve priority parking at the PPG Parking lots when you buy your tickets online. There are also privately-run lots along Fifth Avenue. If you are lucky, you may be able to find street parking in the area. Port Authority Buses 61A,B,C,D and 71A,C, and D and the 81, 81B, and 83 all stop nearby. The closest T station is Steel Plaza. PPG Arena is located at 1001 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15219. To buy tickets to Cortéo: https://www.ticketmaster.com/cirque-du-soleil-corteo-tickets/artist/30809?brand=ppgpaintsarena&venueId=180938