THE CIR­CLE OF LIFE

Cirque du soleil’s Cor­teo lands in De­troit ahead of its May Wind­sor run

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A Cirque du soleil per­former works in­side a large ac­ro­batic ring dur­ing a re­hearsal for the show Cor­teo at the Lit­tle Cae­sars Arena in De­troit. The show is per­formed in De­troit twice on Satur­day and twice on Sun­day and will be at the WFCU Cen­tre in Wind­sor from May 15 to 19.

Dy­ing has never been more fun. Cirque du soleil’s Cor­teo is play­ing De­troit this week­end be­fore com­ing to Wind­sor in May, com­plete with death-de­fy­ing stunts, a woman float­ing above the crowd, two per­form­ers in a horse cos­tume and one top-notch whistler. It’s the dizzy­ing, funny and touch­ing story of Mauro the Dreamer Clown, on his deathbed watch­ing his life pass be­fore him in “a mys­te­ri­ous place be­tween Heaven and Earth.”

“What Cirque du soleil has done over the last 30 years is we have changed what tra­di­tional cir­cus used to be,” said artis­tic direc­tor Mark Shaub. “We’re be­com­ing a new type of cir­cus, what peo­ple have as their go-to idea of what cir­cus is. We’ve com­bined a lot of the dif­fer­ent art forms. We mix the ac­ro­bat­ics with the mu­sic, with the chore­og­ra­phy, with the cos­tumes, with the light­ing, with the set de­sign. We take all of these dif­fer­ent el­e­ments and bring them to­gether to cre­ate some­thing new and very dif­fer­ent.”

Cor­teo, an Ital­ian word mean­ing cortege or pro­ces­sion, show­cases all the ac­ro­batic an­tics Cirque du soleil is known for. But as the clown wit­nesses his car­ni­val-like fu­neral un­fold, watched over by hov­er­ing an­gels, there are also jug­glers, hula hoops, singers, a con­tor­tion­ist fly­ing above the stage on a sus­pended pole, and a wild ver­sion of Romeo and Juliet. A per­former tied to he­lium-filled bal­loons even floats over the crowd, be­ing pushed along by au­di­ence mem­bers. Cor­teo is es­sen­tially pre­sented in the round with au­di­ences on two sides of the cir­cu­lar stage, which has con­cen­tric ro­tat­ing rings al­low­ing one part of it to spin while an­other re­mains still.

The col­lec­tion of dozens of per­form­ers comes from about 18 dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

“See­ing a Cirque show is an ex­pe­ri­ence,” said per­former Har­vey Don­nelly, 27, from Eng­land. “It’s the high­est level of cir­cus that you can watch. You’re go­ing to be amazed, you’re go­ing to be inspired, and hope­fully it will move you emo­tion­ally.”

“There are go­ing to be a cou­ple of mo­ments where you go, ‘I didn’t re­al­ize peo­ple could do that.’ For ex­am­ple, there’s a guy that climbs a lad­der like there’s an in­vis­i­ble wall.” Ex­cept, there’s no wall. While bal­anc­ing at the top of the free­stand­ing lad­der, the per­former also does a hand­stand, among other stunts.

Don­nelly ’s act is the teeter­board. “If any­one has ever been on a see-saw in a park, it’s that but just ex­treme,” he said. “So we do triple som­er­saults through the air, land­ing back on a plank of wood. You’ll see guys rid­ing huge metal wheels and spin­ning. There’s also a bed scene that will in­spire many kids out there.”

That child-in­spir­ing mo­ment is a high-fly­ing ver­sion of jump­ing on the bed.

Don­nelly joined Cirque du soleil at age 19 af­ter see­ing a trailer for the com­pany’s pro­duc­tion of Michael Jack­son: The Im­mor­tal World Tour, and send­ing in an au­di­tion tape. Cor­teo is his fifth show. “I got in­volved in this one be­cause I re­mem­bered watch­ing Cor­teo when it was in big top about six years ago and think­ing it was the most beau­ti­ful piece of art I’d ever seen on the stage,” said Don­nelly. “It was truly like a paint­ing come to life. When I got the op­por­tu­nity to be in the re-cre­ation in an arena, I jumped at the chance.” The cur­rent Cor­teo is an arena ver­sion of the big top show that toured for a decade. When the big top pro­duc­tion closed in 2015, it was as­sumed that would be the end of the show. “Com­mon knowl­edge at that time was Cor­teo is sim­ply too big and too com­pli­cated to go into the are­nas,” said Shaub. “In a big top we have seven days to set up. The big top, the stage, the bleach­ers, the con­ces­sion, ev­ery­thing. Four days to tear it down.”

With the arena ver­sion, they have 10 to 12 hours to set it up and less than half that time to take it down.

“From the end of the last show on Sun­day, the last truck is on the road four hours later,” said Shaub. The back­stage ac­tiv­ity is just as elab­o­rate as the stunts and stage props the au­di­ence sees. There are at least a dozen peo­ple work­ing lights, pul­leys and other con­trap­tions. The com­pany trav­els with a wardrobe team, which cus­tom­made the cos­tumes for each per­former, and its own fleet of wash­ing ma­chines.

It takes 23 trucks to move the pro­duc­tion from city to city.

“A lot of peo­ple have put a lot of work and ef­fort into de­sign­ing this to be tourable,” said Shaub. “Then ex­e­cut­ing that ev­ery week and mak­ing sure we can ar­rive from one city to the other, set it up and per­form our shows safely and ef­fi­ciently in all these dif­fer­ent are­nas, be­cause are­nas change ev­ery week. They ’re all dif­fer­ent. It’s amaz­ing to watch.”

DAN JANISSE

PHO­TOS: DAN JANISSE

A Cirque du Soleil per­former flies through the air Thurs­day dur­ing a re­hearsal of Cor­teo at the Lit­tle Cae­sars Arena in De­troit.

A Cirque du soleil jug­gler re­hearses back stage in prepa­ra­tion for the show Cor­teo at Lit­tle Cae­sars Arena in De­troit.

A view of the stage is shown dur­ing the re­hearsal for Cirque du soleil’s Cor­teo show at the Lit­tle Cae­sars Arena in De­troit.

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