Theater Reviews

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The Forum, Inglewood, Calif.
Through Oct. 14

Premiered in 2005 in Montreal, "Corteo" is one of the latest productions from Cirque du Soleil's seemingly endless factory of circus delights. This one is reaching Los Angeles after successful runs in New York, Boston, Chicago and D.C. Its "theme" is the funeral cortege for a clown (Jeff Raz), and the atmosphere definitely is a carnival.

The jumbled miscellany of acts that follow the opening sequence includes four acrobats bouncing on two beds, five beautiful women in underwear twirling on three crystal chandeliers, four jugglers as well as an amazing ladder virtuoso (Uzeyer Novrusov).

There are extended big set pieces and quick little comic sketches, an amazing whistler (Robert Stemmons) and a stunning violinist (Gale Hess) as well as a concert played on water-filled glasses and bowls. And whatever's going on, ethereal angels swinging from the rafters shower the stage with love and fairy dust.

As usual, "Corteo" combines Cirque's customary circus acts with touches of sad poetry. There are the usual strong influences from the more traditional, more philosophical Russian circus (as in the work of the great clown Slava Polunin and his Slava's Snowshow, which was a resident at UCLA's Royce Hall for much of December and January) and from filmmaker Federico Fellini, which leavens the purely physical acts with a number of gentle, funny and endearing routines. This time, the music has become more Fellini-like as well, minimizing the New Age vocalizing that characterized the troupe's larger productions.

The most beautiful of the gentler routines is a wonderful dance between Raz and 2-foot-5-inch Valentyna Pahlevanyan, who is attached by a circlet around her waste to a covey of giant helium balloons. After their formal dance is concluded, Raz pushes her gently across the footlights, where she gets the beachball treatment from a delighted audience.

After the 30-minute intermission, the highlight is a recently added magical duet on rings by Valentyna and her equally compact husband, Grigor. Accompanied by chimes and other tinkling bells, the couple strike various poses and carry out a series of maneuvers that delicately recall the cherubim on the show's curtain. It is a mark of the Cirque creator and director Daniele Finzi Pasca's creative curiosity, resourcefulness and generosity that this team has been allowed to give this routine -- which was a staple of their work in Russia for many years -- a place in "Corteo."

Splitting the Forum audience in half, the show is performed on a long thin strip of stage, which gives the show a wonderful intimacy and makes most of the Grand Chapiteau's 2,700 seats good ones. And for the one time when the views are alternately obscured for one half of the audience and then the other, during a totally wacky Punch and Judy commedia dell'arte routine, the weakness becomes a surprising strength.

Whether intended or not, "Corteo" includes what might be called a Los Angeles localization. First, the dead clown (who plays an active part in the evening's festivities) is a dead ringer for a much younger version of L.A. Opera and Latin pop superstar Placido Domingo. Then, a routine that has Raz dribbling a ball, taking shots and playing catch with a blond bombshell of a marionette (Rebecca Jose), pays subtle tribute to the Forum's once having been the home of the basketball Lakers.

"Corteo" should be a hit. Little wonder that extra performances have been added to its run.

CORTEO
Presented by Cirque du Soleil
Credits:
Cirque founder/CEO: Guy Laliberte
Creator-director: Daniele Finzi Pasca
Director of creation: Line Tremblay
Set designer: Jean Rabasse
Costume designer: Dominique Lemieux
Composers and musical directors: Philippe Leduc, Maria Bonzanigo
Lighting designer: Martin Labrecque
Sound designer: Jonathan Deans
Makeup designer: Nathalie Gagne
Cast:
Tight wire: Anastasia Bykovskaya
the Giant: Victorino Lujan
Acrobatic duet: Oleg Ouchakov and Evgeniya Astashkina
The Dead Clown: Jeff Raz
Ladder virtuoso: Uzeyer Novrusov
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