- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 28, 2006

About 22 years ago, a group of street performers in a small town near Quebec City dreamed of a new type of show: an animal-free circus that would combine street theater and acrobatics in a dazzling and novel way. Today, that vision is manifest in Cirque du Soleil’s six lavish touring productions, six resident shows and one arena tour.

In a way, the troupe’s latest traveling act, “Corteo” (playing at the City Center through Nov. 26), is an homage to the group’s ascent, to the power of dreams and to the grandeur and beauty that can result from the mind’s wanderings.

Accessible and likable, “Corteo’s” protagonist is a rotund, Italian-speaking clown, and the story begins when he imagines his own funeral. Corteo, after all, is Italian for “cortege,” and true to form, the procession plods sporadically across the stage. The two-hour show is far from morbid, however. Instead, it celebrates life, exploring the limits of the human body and showcasing the boundlessness of imagination.

The performance’s central character loosely bastes together director Daniele Finzi Pasca’s disparate acts, be they big, edge-of-your-seat acrobatic feats or more deliberate theatrical or whimsical moments.

The clown, along with the audience, will watch as acrobats writhe like snakes through swinging chandeliers, bounce on beds like children run amok and flip like monkeys around high bars (missing collisions with one another by milliseconds). He’ll look on as men roll about the stage, their bodies splayed out in giant silver rings like Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, and as jugglers walk on one another’s heads without missing a single catch.

In between these high-energy exploits, the clown finds time for some exhibitions of his own — for example, sending a tiny woman suspended by giant balloons into the audience, where she is volleyed around and eventually sent back onstage. During another lull, he’ll learn to fly from angels that arabesque through the air, their petticoats so full, they resemble the foamy layer atop a latte.

While “Corteo” integrates many of Cirque’s standard elements — superior stunts, live musical thrust, playfulness and sometimes bizarreness — this program seems different from previous ones. It’s less garish and more classic; makeup is sparse, costumes are elegant and historic-looking. Even the stage’s curtains, which depict a clown waltzing through a menagerie of animals and people — a scene inspired by an 1885 painting by Parisian artist Adolphe Willette — reinforce the show’s period feel.

Additionally, the main character gives the audience human eyes through which they can relate to the action. It’s less an incomprehensible, cerebral fantasy than a lovely dream sequence that anyone could have, one in which children’s fantasies of jumping on beds and soaring on wings are taken to new extremes.

“Corteo” is like the free Haagen-Dazs given out on opening night: Children will like it, for sure (although some darker moments and loud noises do pop up occasionally) but adults will truly appreciate the richness of it. In fact, they might even find themselves wishing for a similar earthly send-off.

***

WHAT: “Corteo” by Cirque du Soleil

WHERE: Grand Chapiteau at City Center (Old Convention Center), Ninth Street and New York Avenue Northwest.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 4 and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 26. Two performances on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23.

TICKETS: $40 to $75 adults, $28 to $52.50 children 2 to 12, $36 to $67.50 students over 13 and seniors (weekdays only).

PHONE: 800/678-5440

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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