Asking “Why?” doesn’t get results with Cirque du Soleil. When a clown in a conical white hat and puffy white pants crosses the stage, clutching a bouquet of flowers – and “walking” upside down, 30 feet above the ground – you can’t find a reason for it.
Nor does “How?” get you anyplace. People in and behind the scenes at “Corteo,” the most amusing of four Cirque shows I’ve seen, rely on mystification. Explanations erode the magic.
Cirque shows like the one at Spectrum Center this week are all about “what.” What will happen to top the last bit of wonderment? What kind of oddity – say, two Roomba-like robots that interrupt a balancing act for no perceptible reason – will whirr or buzz or spring onto the stage next? What might you see that you’ve never seen before? There “Corteo” keeps you off-balance throughout.
Audiences who expect the heart-stopping shocks or manic behavior of other Cirque shows may find this one low-key. Yet the crucial parts of any Cirque project come together handsomely and wittily in a production that trades splendor for intimacy.
Yes, intimacy. The crowd sits on both sides of a raised stage at the middle of the Spectrum floor. Though “Corteo” needs air space only Spectrum could provide, it feels more like a show at Belk Theater after somebody elevated the roof four stories.
Every Cirque show relies on five elements: music, comedy, elegance, danger and surrealism. Here’s how “Corteo” shapes up:
Music: You will never again hear a concerto for violin, chimes, human whistler and glass harmonica (water glasses filled to different levels), and it provides eerie pleasure. The rest becomes a happy hodgepodge of opera snippets, drum-whacking excitement, pop songs belted in Spanish or wailed in Italian and backed by saxophone, string bass and keyboards.
Comedy: “Corteo” relies on humor more than most Cirque pieces. Mauro, an Italian clown, dreams of his funeral, which begins with homages from circus pals and ends with him on a celestial bicycle. Along the way, he becomes master of ceremonies for a slapstick deconstruction of “Romeo and Juliet,” plays beach-ball soccer with a human puppet and introduces a midget who floats over the crowd in a harness attached to four enormous balloons. (You’re encouraged to redirect her flight by tapping her feet.)
Elegance: We get lots of aerialists working on cables and silks – too many, despite their gifts – jugglers, people who twirl hoops or ride around in the big ones known as Cyr wheels. The most geometrically glorious moment comes when a dozen gymnasts spin and fly through intricate criss-cross patterns on a set of bars.
Danger: The show offers two must-look-away moments, one where daredevils bounce to wince-inducing heights on a teeterboard and another where a man performs feats on a free-standing ladder with a dozen rungs. (Sorry to say “A man,” but you can’t ask “Who?” at Cirque shows, either. The crowd never receives programs, nor does anyone introduce performers.)
Surrealism: This runs through the show, like streaks of fat marbling a delicious ham. Angels float in and out, first with gauzy wings and later with sharp-edged ones like huge paper snowflakes. A white-capped human head becomes a golf ball menaced by the long club of a giant.
Some routines combine these elements. A giddy pillow fight morphs into an acrobatic act where participants bounce on trampoline “beds.” A bouncer plunges from his bedframe to the mattress and back, over and over again at top speed, as if someone cranked a silent movie forward and backward for laughs. Humor, elegance and danger merge, because a backward fall might yield a cracked skull. Then, all of a sudden, this dizzying routine stops as abruptly as it began.
If you ask “why,” you will be shown to the door.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 and 5 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Spectrum Center, 333 E. Trade St.
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes.
DETAILS: (800) 745-3000 or spectrumcentercharlotte.com.