As is the case with most required high school language courses I remember very little of Madame Dulac’s French instruction. However, when she introduced us to Cirque du Soleil it moved me in a way that I would never forget. The exhilarating high flying stunts, gorgeous music, and breathtaking sets were unlike anything I had ever seen. Living in areas of the country that were often passed over by the Canadian entertainment troupe I never had the pleasure of seeing them in person. When the Budweiser Event Center suggested I come backstage to take a tour of the show before the premiere it was an opportunity I could not turn down.
Jess and I arrived in Loveland armed to the teeth; him with his cameras and me with my pen and notebook. Walking into the arena the circus theme of Corteo was beautifully obvious. A story inspired by the painting The Great Parade: Portrait of the artist as Clown, it comes as no surprise that simply the empty stage resembles the work of French Impressionism. The set is decorated with massive 58ft x 40ft drop curtains painted with watercolor inspired by the work of Adolphe Willette. Musicians are placed in a four-part pit separated from the audience by Parisian style brass fences. To engage the patrons further the stage is open on both ends, giving the crowd a chance to watch the reactions of the opposite them. As we waited for our tour guide, Max Batista, to arrive I sat and took in the scene for what I know will be a truly amazing performance.
The story of Corteo centers around Mauro, a clown who dreams of his death. While the premise may sound macabre the story is anything but. As his dream begins Corteo sees his friends mourning his passing and quickly encourages them to celebrate his life. The music becomes upbeat and resembles a New Orleans funeral procession. As Mauro’s dream adventure unfolds it is supported by clown musicians playing everything from flamenco to folk. To ensure the music is in time with the performance Cirque du Soleil’s pit of live musicians communicates through headsets. 52 members comprise the troupe with many of them playing multiple roles. 40 of the artists play an angel at one point throughout the story.
Max showed us secrets to the magic of the show. One character crosses the stage several times seemingly defying logic and reentering the same side that he left. As a performer walked on stage to rehearse her rotating solo aerial straps act. Very few things move me to tears and that list grows significantly shorter when in public. However, watching Aurélie Deroux-Dauphin twist and twirl twenty feet above the stage while singing a French song in which I understood a total of five words I was moved among a handful of jaded stagehands. The simplicity and grace in her movements combined with her emotionally compelling voice posed a threat to my composure. I felt whisked away in Proustian style to easier times when my world wasn’t as chaotic. A childlike peace swelled inside me as Jess ran past to grab a separate camera for close range shots. It was then Max informed me her act was a rotating one that is put into the play only if another performer isn’t able to do theirs. If she was their backup plan I could only imagine how wonderful their main acts could be.
While the wardrobe was an intricate as it was vast and the clown jugglers practicing backstage performed with jaw-dropping ease the highlight of the experience was watching Aurélie perfect her craft for opening night. If a song and two pieces of silk can reduce a grown man to rubble when brought to life by these amazing performers I cannot fathom how complete the entire show must make one feel. It is no wonder that Corteo has held the record for 13 years for most spectators in its first month with a cool 200,000 guests. The performance will last from May 31st to June 3rd at the Budweiser Event Center in Loveland. It is an experience I would not miss for the world and I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to catch a show and treat themselves to the experience of a lifetime. Come celebrate, laugh, and be moved by the dream of a clown with Cirque du Soleil.