In 10 Words or Less
Cirque and the lighter side of dying
Loves: Cirque du Soleil
Likes: Acrobats, Jugglers
The Story So Far...
Founded back in 1984 in Canada by a band of street performers, Cirque du Soleil has grown into an international phenomenon and a pop-culture staple. Hailed for its creativity and high-energy stage shows and mocked for its over-the-top artistry and French-Canadian heritage, the group has developed a wide-range of shows that mix traditional circus acts with drama, music and comedy. One of the best and most unique aspects of the troupe is its ability to transcend culture, generation and language in creating its art.
17 DVD releases have captured Cirque's live shows, as well as documentaries and TV series. There was also a film, Allegria, based on the Cirque show of the same name, which is now out-of-print. DVDTalk has reviews of several of the DVD titles:
Stop me if you heard this one before: a clown dreams about dying and the funeral that follows. Yeah, that's light-hearted, TGIF-quality entertainment. It's also the plot of Cirque du Soleil's visually inventive new DVD, which combines Fellini, religious iconography and trampolines to make something that looks great, but doesn't grab hold of the viewer the way past shows have. Sure, it's still an entertaining 101 minutes, but it's...different.
Our story begins with our hero dreaming about his death, and how he is remembered in the funeral corteo (procession). From there, the show travels through the clown's life, more or less, via the troupe's acts, in a show that's frequently operatic, taking a great deal of influence from the Italian commedia dell'arte and combining it with a gothic circus show. As a result, the show is frequently quite surreal and more story-focused than usual.
Several touches, like the presence of dwarves and giants, harkening to the days of the traveling sideshows, and the heavy religious symbolism, including a great deal of Baroque-style angels, help give the show a unique feel that contrasts with the sillier parts of the show. It may be the reason that the clowns in this show deliver one of the least effective performances to date, as their play is somewhat out of place and out of sync with the rest of the show.
From the first act, a trapeze act featuring scantily-clad flapper girls twirling on chandeliers without a safety net, "Corteo" strikes the proper balance between art and spectacle, powered by a soundtrack of divergent songs that keep the energy of the show flowing. Much like "Varekai," the tone and atmosphere of this show is almost as important as the performances, and the dramatic lighting and gorgeous songs make that tone immediately obvious.
As with any Cirque show, the performances are the reason why you watch, and "Corteo" presents a very varied and entertaining selection. The previously mentioned Chandeliers routine is beautiful to watch, while the juggling act is nicely stylish and big enough to fill the large stage, with four performers flinging rings and clubs high in the air. The finale of the act, which actually features a rare Cirque flub, puts a great high-energy finish on the set.
Though technically impressive, especially during a hula-hoop trick, the tightrope walking just doesn't compare to the more entertaining moments of the show, due to the acts' inherent limitations, mainly the fact that it's a person walking. More interesting is the Tournik, a multiple-gymnast parallel bars act, and the Bouncing Beds, a more playful and intimate version of the trampoline act that's been a favorite in previous shows.
Much of this show puts an emphasis on beauty and grace, as seen in the Rhythmic Gymnastics routine, the Cyr Wheel set and the Crystal Glasses and Tibetan Bowls musical segment, but the perfect balance is struck during Puppet Artist, which combines all the best aspects of Cirque's shows. Strung up like a marionette puppet, the performer moves with all the artificiality of a toy, while flying through the air, pulled by an unseen master. The artistry and spectacle combine to create an emotional moment with the dead clown, as he revisits his childhood. It's not as exciting as the Tournik or Chandeliers, but it does everything right.
Performed in the round, on a rotating stage, the show has a great deal of concurrent action, and unfortunately, the camera can only capture so much of it. Whenever the stage becomes a whirlwind of activity, the editing pace picks up, and it can become disorienting. More wideshots that allow the viewer to appreciate the overall performance would be appreciated, but it's understandable why the quick cuts are necessary, as the original three-ring circus hardly made it easy to follow all the action.
Released in a standard black keepcase with a promotional insert, "Corteo" is a single-disc release. The DVD has a beautiful animated anamorphic widescreen menus, with options to watch the film, check out special features, select scenes and adjust the languages. Available audio tracks include Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 English, while subtitles are available for the bonus features in Spanish and Portuguese, along with closed captioning. The scene selection menus are text lists of the acts.
An excellent representation of one of Cirque's live shows, this disc looks quite good, though it can look better depending on the camera angle, as some captured a crisper image than others. Overall, the picture has solid color, a high level of detail and an absolute lack of any kind of dirt, damage or digital artifacts.
The audio, delivered in a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, is impressively spread among the center channel and surround speakers, with music enhancement and some sound effects finding their way to the sides and rear to support a wonderfully clear main channel. There's a surprising amount of dialogue in this show, but it's all as clear as the show wants it to be, making for a top-notch presentation.
A decent spread of extras support the main show, beginning with the 45-minute "Through the Curtain: An In-Depth Look at 'Corteo'". This behind-the-scenes featurette has plenty of interviews with the creative side of Cirque, and traces the development of the show, from the concept through to the show's premiere. It's a great, compact history of how the show was created, and should be of interest to anyone into the show.
In "A Day in the Life of 'Corteo' Artists," (11 minutes) acrobats Edi Moreno and Mitchell Head, a couple who met at Cirque seven years ago, lead the camera through an average day in their lives. Combined with "Through the Curtain," it's a very nice all-access pass to the show.
Clocking in at just under eight minutes, "Filming 'Corteo'" is all about how the show was brought to the screen, with info from the director on why he made the choices he did and a bit of the actual effort. It's followed by "Teatro Intimo," an eight-minute deleted scene from the show. In it, the two little-folk in the show take part in a slapstick performance of "Romeo and Juliet." It's cute, and better than the lame golf set that made it into the show.
The extras wrap up with an extensive still-photo slideshow that plays with a quick pace, and a pair of promos for the Cirque Club and the Cirque DVD releases.
The Bottom Line
"Corteo" is a different kind of show for Cirque, one that doesn't feel as fun as previous efforts, despite it featuring several very impressive acts. The very artistic feel and gothic look give everything an air of seriousness that doesn't exactly jive with the traditional good time delivered by Cirque. Of course, even so, the acts are amazing and entertaining, saving the show's bacon. The DVD presentation is great, and the extras add a good deal to the package. Your own mileage will vary, depending on your interest in the Cirque. As a touring show, there's a chance you can see "Corteo" live, but you probably won't be this close.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.