feAfter a two-year hiatus, the breathtaking, awe-inspiring Cirque du Soleil is back and our writer journeyed to Split to see what Irish audiences can expect later this year.
What happens when we die, in that moment when we pass away? It’s a question adults ask themselves, and children ask their parents with that innocent inquisitivity.
No one really knows so perhaps, then, we should look to the Dreamer Clown for inspiration.
For him, there’s a chance to revisit all the great things that have happened in his life. There are meetings with friends, singing and dancing, acrobats performing daring feats, there is music, laughter and love, before an angel grants him his wings and he cycles off into the sky.
The Dreamer Clown’s journey is the story told by Mauro Mozzani in the fabulous Corteo, the Cirque du Soleil show which is back on the road post-Covid and takes on a whole new meaning.
Corteo burst back into life in the ancient town of Split, Croatia, where the show was presented for the first time, much to the delight and amazement of the audience.
Young children — and those who were very much older — gasped in awe as the talented performers and crew showed their delight and relief at returning to the road in a magical celebration.
Corteo means procession in Italian but also doubles up as the word for cortege, but there are few tears and certainly no black in this. Just one of Cirque’s shows currently on the road all over the world, it is a family show that was written by Daniele Finzi Pasca, reimagining the funeral procession not as a sad event, but rather as a celebration of life.
Cirque means ‘Circus and the company in Baie-Montreal street Laliberté Ste-Croix Artistic director Alison Crawford, who grew up in Belfast before moving to Montreal at the age of 13, helped create the original show for the Cirque big top but in 2005 it transferred to an arena setting. She is integral in bringing Corteo to Dublin’s 3Arena in July.
‘I was Danielle’s assistant so I was very fortunate to build this show with him,’ she explains. ‘We meet a man at his funeral but it’s not a sad story, it’s a real celebration of his life and all the people in it. It’s a very touching show.’
Alison started out as a choreographer for the company 24 years ago and has worked her way up to the role of artistic director, now making sure the show runs smoothly and all the gymnasts, acrobats, actors and singers are working in perfect harmony.
With the arena shows, the cast and crew are moving every week and though Alison loved the stillness of her cottage in Montreal, where she managed to get things done that pre- Covid she didn’t have time for, two years was long enough. ‘There is a certain point where you go, okay, let’s go, we need to get back,’ she says.
It’s a sentiment that’s shared by the rest of the cast and crew, who are bustling busily behind black curtains at the side of the stage. From early afternoon, the backstage areas area hive of activity. The technical crew put acrobats and their understudies through their paces, carefully monitoring each position to ensure everyone performs safely, whether they are hanging from ropes or poles, swinging from huge chandeliers or flying through the air, trapeze-style.
As Hitomi Kinokuniya flies through the air suspended on what, to the untrained eye, looks like two billowing lengths of flimsy material, Derryman Gavin Gallagher watches intently with his team, analyzing her every moment and tweaking the physics behind it.
An engineer who is now employed as an automation technician, Gavin is one of a team in charge of the flying angels and aerial performers in Corteo, making them and the scenery move and stop at the right points. It’s a team that the performers’ lives depend on.
‘It’s dangerous but very safe,’ he says. ‘We have so much safety protocol, rescue training for so many different scenarios, so should something happen, we are prepared for it.’
So how did a boy from Derry manage to run away with the circus? ‘I have always been working in events, ever since I was a kid. Then I did electrical engineering. I was doing sound and lighting and stuff like that for Unit Seven in Derry, a lot of local gigs, then moved to England to do theater gigs then to a cruise ship, where I started to do stage automation.’
‘I started in a show called Allegria and then moved to the newest show they were creating in Montreal then Covid hit and I am just starting here again, two months ago,’ he says.
The pandemic was difficult — he spent most of his time in Derry and Ecuador, where his wife is from. ‘I was an electrician before this so I did some electrical work, then we had a baby which is the hardest work of all,’ he laughs.
Gavin is touring at the minute with his wife and baby, who is just over a year old. ‘It’s harder than when I used to do it myself,’ he says laughing. ‘We have a bit of extra baggage but it’s great.’
For Gavin this is a dream job.
He loves going to work every day and when we meet he has just seen the show from the audience. ‘Last night I got to enjoy it and it is pretty impressive — it blows your mind as an audience member,’ he says.
Mindblowing it certainly is — every second of the show is a moment that touches an emotion in the audience, bringing them from fits of laughter to astonished gasps as sinews fly and bodies are twisted and contorted into mid-air shapes that are unimaginable to us mere mortals in the stalls.
These people have muscles on their muscles and though there is a gym backstage too, the daily rehearsals and performances are enough to keep them in shape, according to Sante Fortunato, one of four artistes who twists and whirls in a beautiful display on giant chandeliers as part of the show.
She is married to juggler and diablo artist Sasha Yudintsev after meeting on the show in 2017. They now have a baby girl who, at just nine months old, is traveling around the world with them.
‘I originally wanted a normal job but I fell into this,’ Canadian Sante explains. ‘I grew up doing rhythmic gymnastics and dance and at 18 years old I heard there was a circus college and I applied along with applying to other normal universities. I got into circus college and thought, what do I do now?’
Thankfully she followed her dream and at circus college she specialized in hula hoop, ariel hoop and contortion. Though she is able to fly through the air, sliding from specially designed lights with grace and verve, she insists she is still working on her postbaby flexibility.
‘The contortion stuff, I am not quite there yet,’ she says. ‘I am getting back my flexibility.’
Practice is daily for Sante but she mostly concentrates on rehearsing the parts of the show for which she provides back-up, rather than the part she is involved in. ‘I don’t feel like I need to do so much training if we are doing seven to nine shows a week,’ she explains. ‘We also do quite a long warm-up that in a way is like training as well. In this show I am doing a back-up act with hula hoops and I am not doing that every night so that I have to train in every day.’
“Everyone is a bit different,” Sante says. ‘I definitely like to do conditioning but I use my own body weight — push-ups and pull-ups. I like to eat well and healthy because if you eat junk it creates inflammation which means you have more chance of injury and stuff like that.’
But there are no rules — it’s all a matter of personal choice for the performers.
So before Hungarian performer, Anita Szented flies through the audience suspended by balloons in a breathtaking performance, the carpentry crew led by Genevieve Corbeil Leduc ensure that each balloon is filled with a certain measure of helium and they are tested on the performer to ensure she is moving correctly because as little as one glass of water can have an impact.
During the performance audience members push Anita through the crowd at her request and at one point an excited child rushes out to do her bit, much to the delight of tour director Michael Veilleux, who says it’s a moment he will remember for the rest of his life.
It’s a show that anyone who sees will remember for the rest of their days too, oblivious to the juggling — both literal and metaphorical — going on behind those black curtains.
Watching Corteo is like stepping into someone else’s dream, a fantasy world. There are giant beds being used as trampolines, balloons that can carry people away, amazing feats of strength, skill and acrobatics, music and mostly, all the fun and magic of the circus.
But on a different level, Corteo reminds the audience of the intense beauty of a life well-lived, something that has taken on a new meaning for everyone.
The performance has moments of poignancy, in which you hope those who have gone before us have cycled off into the sky, having completed that all-important angel wing training under the watchful eye of some kindly ethereal beings.
As we leave Split’s Spaladium Arena, a small child beside us is singing loudly. He’s making up his own version of the operatic singing from Corteo, marching along just like the onstage troupe. Like the rest of us, he’s been inspired by the joy of Cirque Du Soleil, an experience everyone should witness before going to be with the angels.
With his little song filling the night air, off we go into Split, our own procession of those whose souls have been fed by a very special night’s entertainment.
CIRQUE Du Soleil’s Corteo will be at Dublin’s 3Arena on July 6&7 at 8pm, July 9 at 12pm, 4pm and 8pm, and July 10, at 1pm. Tickets are on sale now via ticketmaster.ie