‘Corteo’: A Child’s Dream of the Circus


SAN FRANCISCO—Did you ever want to run away with the circus? “Corteo” will take you there with memories of childhood pranks and the same rambunctious play.

“Corteo” is a family-friendly show brought to us by the genius of Cirque du Soleil. The Cirque du Soleil was started in a small town near Quebec, Canada by a group of 20 talented street performers, who joined together to begin performing in a big top. Their popularity grew until they formed the Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, gathering talent from all over the world to entertain people all over the world. They have become a world leader in live entertainment with its most important tools: creativity and skill.

Two gymnasts use straps to swing. (Maja Prgomet/Cirque du Soleil 2023)
Two gymnasts use straps to swing. (Maja Prgomet/Cirque du Soleil 2023)

Act One

The name “Corteo” comes from an Italian word meaning joyous procession. Mauro, a dying clown, dreams of a festive funeral parade to guide him to his own inevitable end when the dream becomes a reality. We enjoy his dream in a carnival-type atmosphere entertained by a group of circus performers. The performers, costumed in a baroque style, old-fashioned and elaborate, blend in with the traditional feel of this show.  Angels fly throughout the performance as he continues to dream; heavenly rewards might await him at the end. The set design is filled with colorful and breezy curtains that add to the mystique of the parade.

The child in you will come out with the opening act of acrobatic play on giant beds with tumbling and pillow fights. “Lively” can barely describe it. Whimsical costumes of bloomers and nightshirts blend in perfectly with the baroque circus acts to follow.

Mauro floats on a bed as he dreams of the lovers from his past represented by female aerial artists swinging from chandeliers above him. The cast of past friends, circus performers, frolic in the wings during the spellbinding moves of the ladies.

As Mauro gives a speech, a parade of performers gathers on the stage and watch as he balances a little clown, Gregor, in the air on his hand.

A few of the children I spoke with at intermission were disappointed by the small number of clowns as they expected more “clowning around.” I agreed. I only saw four clowns in the show.  Besides the lead, Mauro, there was Victorino, the giant clown, two dwarfs, Gregor, the little clown who had been balanced on Mauro’s hand, and Valentina the clowness. One thing I found lacking from the clowns was humor.

Clown jugglers entertain in "Corteo." (Maja Prgomet/Cirque du Soleil 2023)
Clown jugglers entertain in "Corteo." (Maja Prgomet/Cirque du Soleil 2023)

These are clowns with a baroque style, not the comical clowns we think of today with red beeping noses and big floppy shoes climbing out of tiny cars.

Any frowns turned into smiles when the clowness, Valentina, appeared. Valentina floated from helium balloons as she descended from heaven over the crowd. Audience participation allowed fans to lift the clowness as she floated over the entire stadium helping her back to heaven. The tiny Valentina won over all hearts as she enthusiastically encouraged the audience during her journey.

Act 1 closed with a spectacular presentation.  One of the star athletes performed on a suspended pole while the cast stood wingside mesmerized. Spellbinding, and showing the grace of a ballerina, she simply stunned the audience as they cheered for more.

Act 2 

Gymnasts perform in giant rings at dizzying speeds to thunderous applause. The second half is filled with acrobatics, trapeze flyers, and aerialists along with a climatic spectacular. The athletes performing in this show are nothing less than olympically trained.

More childish antics can be recalled with performances on teeter totters. A challenge is stated by one for another performer to join in. One after another somersaults and backflips off the boards until one stages a well-practiced fall. They get the laughs expected.

Intermission is long enough to set the stage for a multi-gymnast, high bar routine as the high bars are arranged in a square. All the bars are occupied at once as the flyers try not to swing into each other. It was a spectacle of grand entertainment.

Giant rings circle at dizzying speeds in "Corteo." (Maja Prgomet/Cirque du Soleil 2023)
Giant rings circle at dizzying speeds in "Corteo." (Maja Prgomet/Cirque du Soleil 2023)

Mauro ends his journey flying up to heaven on a bicycle twenty-five feet above the stage while his angels accompany him, the perfect way for a dream to end.

Artistic director Allyson Crawford wants you to leave with the humanity of the show in mind. A collection of characters from around the world join to show us the hopes and joys of community.

“Corteo” is a delightfully light-hearted show with amazing talent.

“Corteo” closed in San Francisco, but arrives in Palm Springs on Aug. 31, San Diego on Sept. 6, and Phoenix on Sept. 13.
‘Corteo’ Cirque Du Soleil Chase Center, San Francisco Tickets: CirqueDuSoliel.com Runs: 2 hours, 20 minutes Coming to: Palm Springs, San Diego, and Phoenix
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Debra Amundson has written about everything from food to fashion, discovered in her travels. After studies at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) and the Academy of Art, she settled on UCLA for her certificate in journalism. She focuses on historical architecture, leading us from castles to Victorian homes.
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