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Cirque sends in the clowns

'Corteo' show dazzles with spectacular and surreal funeral scenes.

August 25, 2007|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

Don't let those angels flying overhead like fugitive Christmas-tree toppers fool you. Although executed with heavenly facility, Cirque du Soleil's "Corteo," now playing under the group's distinctive blue and yellow Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) at the Forum, is a surprisingly earthy offering, with its zippy live music and its celebratory crowd scenes.

Then, of course, there are the performers, an elite crew that includes several former Olympians. Those inured to Hollywood "effects" may have to regularly remind themselves that these dazzling physical feats are not computer-generated.

The show takes place, fittingly, in a clown's nightmare. In the process of expiring, this "dead clown" (personable Jeff Raz) dreams of his funeral. Before his final "curtain," the clown dons Harlequin attire before cycling into the heavens on an airborne bicycle.

That simple scenario fuels any number of bizarre segues, including several surreal processionals that would have done Fellini proud. The thrumming, klezmer-influenced music by Philippe Leduc and Maria Bonzanigo fuels the festivities. Those accustomed to the airy techno-music of previous Cirque productions may find "Corteo" a pleasant departure. Finally, a Cirque score you can dance to.

And as for the sheer scale of the enterprise, "Corteo" takes a village -- make that a small city -- to come to full fruition. The physical site outside the Forum sprawls over about 180,000 square feet. And this Los Angeles production is one of 15 that will be mounted worldwide in 2007, including an Orange County run starting Nov. 8.

The cast alone numbers about 61 performers from 16 countries, and that doesn't include the backstage personnel. In fact, the black-clad technicians are accorded their own curtain call -- a nice touch, considering the crucial role they play.

As with all Cirque productions, the creative team was helmed by Guy Laliberté, who founded the Cirque in 1984 and oversaw its rise from humble street performance to multi-conglomerate.

The technical achievement is so massive, it's difficult to pinpoint just who is responsible for what. Daniele Finzi Pasca is credited as "Creator and Director," while Line Tremblay is listed as "Director of Creation." So you go figure.

Martin Labrecque's lighting, Jonathan Deans' sound and Dominique Lemieux's commedia-inspired costumes are superb, as is Danny Zen's astonishing acrobatic rigging, which sends performers soaring in fantastic tableaux. However, the standout of this production is Jean Rabasse's set design, which splits the audience in two, both sides facing the central revolving stage. The show opens with identical teams of clowns, part of a slapstick funeral corteo, or cortege, romping through the bifurcated audience. As we laugh at the clowns in front of us, we can look over and see their doppelgängers performing roughly the same actions at roughly the same time. It's a startling image, a mirror exercise that plunges us through the looking glass into an alternate reality.

The acts themselves are uniformly astounding. Among the highlights, lissome women dangle precariously from glittering chandeliers, and tight-wire artist Anastasia Bykovskaya climbs a wire at an impossibly raked angle. An amazing "Acrobatic Duet," performed by Oleg Ouchakov and Evgeniya Astashkina, stretches the limits of adagio teamwork; another adagio act, performed in charming miniature by gifted little people Grigor and Valentyna Pahlevanyan, proves that sheer physical prowess comes in all sizes. They, and their intrepid fellow performers, make "Corteo" a celestial entertainment for all ages.


Cirque du Soleil's 'Corteo'

Where: Under the Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) at the Forum, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 4 and 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Oct 14

Price: $38.50-$90

Contact: (800) 678-5440;

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes


Where: Orange County Fair & Exposition Center

When: Nov. 8-Dec. 23

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