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'Is it a dream, or really the funeral?': Cirque du Soleil's 'Corteo' brings liveliness, story to PPL Center

Brian Myszkowski
Cirque du Soleil's "Corteo," the tale of a clown imagining his own funeral, is showing at the PPL Center through Sunday, March 31.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — “I dreamt of my funeral. You were all there. I was lying, dead, in the center of the stage…”

So begins the tale of a clown picturing the end of his life in a carnival atmosphere, as he is watched over by benevolent angels.

It's the intriguing, morbid, animated framework for Cirque du Soleil’s “Corteo,” which opened Thursday and will show at the PPL Center in Allentown through Sunday.

The surreal adventure combines incredible acts of aerial acrobatics, dance, juggling, suspended pole work and myriad other feats of physical art augmented by live music from four stage corners and vivid, dream-like lighting.

“What is unique is that you can pick up the storyline that you want – is it a dream, or is that really the funeral of someone? Depending on your sensitivity or your life experience, you can have your own interpretation, and the ones on stage don't even have the same vision of the show."
Cirque du Soleil publicist Alexandra Gaillard

Alexandra Gaillard, publicist for the tour, said Thursday’s performance of “Corteo” is the premiere in the area.

According to Gaillard, the show, which has run for 19 years, “is one of the most beloved shows of Cirque du Soleil.”

“It’s a show about Mauro the Dreamer Clown, and it’s high-level acrobatics, live musicians, and comedians," Gaillard said. "And what is unique about ‘Corteo’ is it is a two-sided experience.”

Brian Myszkowski
Bouncing Beds, an act in "Corteo," features incredible acrobatics performed atop two mobile beds.

While the subject matter of a funeral may appear morose, the show deals with the juxtaposition of concepts: large and small, ridiculous and tragic, the magic of perfection and the charm of imperfection, the strength and fragility of Mauro.

And it’s family-friendly, too — Gaillard noted “Corteo” was recently awarded "Best Family Show of the Year" by Pollstar magazine.

It is yet another honor for Cirque du Soleil, a Canadian entertainment company known as the largest circus producer in the world. It celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

“Corteo” features 16 acts on a circular stage, offering a fantastic view from any seat in PPL Center. From the initial procession, which introduces the 53 performers, the audience is offered a phantasmagorical slate of performances.

During the Chandeliers act, four women representing the clown’s loves indulge in aerial acrobatics on ornate lighting rigs.

Brian Myszkowski
Some of the numerous performers of "Corteo" walk across the stage between acts.

Bouncing Beds features “a gaggle of young kids” — don’t worry, these "kids" are trained adult performers — making fanciful leaps on two 600-pound rotating platform beds.

The Suspended Pole tells the story of a young would-be star as she “discovers the sheer pleasure of exploring movement and contortion-like shapes” as she swings high over the stage.

Tournik combines horizontal bar techniques and the art of the circus as a group of artists perform atop a cube structure in a complex and tight pattern, which serves as “a final farewell to Mauro.”

The result is a story woven together through lively performances, dynamic music spanning exuberance and despair, and lighting that makes you wonder what is really happening.

“What is unique is that you can pick up the storyline that you want — is it a dream, or is that really the funeral of someone?" Gaillard said.

"Depending on your sensitivity or your life experience, you can have your own interpretation, and the ones on stage don't even have the same vision of the show."

Brian Myszkowski
MeLVin covers his eyes as a Cirque du Soleil performer traverses the stage atop a moving ladder during a practice session.

Gaillard noted the entire endeavor involves 120 people of more than two dozen nationalities, including a production team, tour management, wardrobe, a medical staff and even catering for the team.

Speaking of wardrobe, there are more than 2,500 pieces of costumery for “Corteo,” including a variety of incredibly tailored dresses, suits and elaborately detailed footwear — which is especially pivotal to the performers conducting daredevil feats by the minute.

In addition to perfecting their onstage show, performers in “Corteo” must undergo 40 hours of professional makeup training, which lets them to apply their own detailed paintwork.

Brian Myszkowski
Five performers expertly wheel about the stage in the Cyr Wheel act.

The grand scale of the performance just would not be possible without the help of local workers, with about 100 individuals hired to set up and tear down the structures for the show.

Gaillard said the tour thus far has captivated audiences across the country, with the performers stating “they can feel the audience and the smiles and the claps, and also they feel that eyes are everywhere, so it's all about the details and being connected with the show.”

And that love was felt across the Lehigh Valley even before Thursday’s premiere, with Lehigh Valley Phantoms mascot MeLVin swinging by to check out a practice session.

Throughout the afternoon, MeLVin was transfixed by the Acrobatic Ladder show, in which a performer maintains his balance on the steps as he moves the mechanism across the stage to reach an angel watching him from above.

Brian Myszkowski
Audiences were stunned by the Chandeliers act of Cirque du Soleil's "Corteo."

MeLVin even got a quick lesson in how to work a diabolo — a double-coned top that is elaborately tossed in the air and caught with a string stretch between two handles — from celebrated performer Fabio Luis Santos.

While it took a few sessions, MeLVin eventually managed to catch a few tosses and launch the diabolo pretty well for an amateur.

Tickets for “Corteo,” at $45-$149, remain available at www.PPLCenter.com.