Behind the Scenes of Cirque Du Soleil’s Corteo
The entertainment company Cirque Du Soleil has been traveling the world and wowing audiences with their acrobatics, juggling, dancing, and stunts for decades. The troupe originally formed in the early 1980s in Canada as a group of 20 street performers. Their fire breathing, juggling, and dancing drew audiences, and in the late 1980s the troupe traveled to America, and in the 1990s their show spread into Europe as well.
Today, Cirque Du Soleil employs over 4,000 people, and has multiple shows touring in dozens of cities across the world. Cirque Du Soleil performs three types of shows – resident, big top, and arena. Their resident shows take place in major cities, such as Las Vegas and New York City, where a stage is built specifically for the show, and there are performances of that show for months in the same place. The big top and arena shows are both traveling, but big top shows take place inside of a large tent and arena shows are performed inside of an existing arena.
Cirque Du Solei made an appearance in Columbus earlier this month at the Schottenstein Center to perform Corteo. Since its debut in 2005 as a big top show, more than 8 million people have experienced Corteo worldwide. In 2015, Cirque Du Soleil stopped performances of Corteo in order to convert it to an arena show. The newly redesigned Corteo made its debut as an arena show in New Orleans last month. Most of the stage, rigs, and hoists had to be redeveloped to fit within arenas that are often not as tall as big tops.
The world of Corteo is one of imagination, wonder, and excitement. Mauro the clown dreams what his own funeral procession will look like. Taking place in the realm between heaven and earth, past lovers and old friends visit Mauro, each performing their skilled act for him. Hoola hoops, flying rings, and balloons all come into play as acrobatic tricks and stunts are performed on poles, chandeliers, ropes, bouncing beds, ladders, and rings.
The stage is a unique aspect of the show. Weighing in at 100,000 tons, the trusses have three tracks that allow for six elements to be flying through the air at once. The center of the stage rotates, moving performers and acrobatic equipment quickly around the stage. The entire stage is designed to resemble a theatre, and the outside scrim was hand painted in France to complete the look. Since the stage is in the center of the arena, the backstage area is actually on the sides. Located on the right and left of the oblong stage, the backstage areas provide prop storage and preparation space for the performers. Located at the four corners of the stage are the music areas. Instead of having a large live orchestra grouped in the center, the Corteo musicians are divided into four stations where they coordinate and play music throughout the performance.
When Corteo was a big top show, performers would quickly run under the bleachers to reach the other side of the stage without being seen by the audience. This allowed the performers to consistently reenter the stage from the same point of entry over and over, creating the illusion that they appeared there without effort. When the show transformed into an arena show, the performers lost the ability to move under the bleachers, and the production team had to find a way to get the performers from one side to the other without being seen. After much testing and brainstorming, a system known as the Cross Over was invented. Running underneath the stage, the system is a stage-length air mattress with a rope overhead. The performers lay on their back on the air mattress and hold onto the rope and are pulled from one side of the stage to the other. It’s almost like a combination of a slip-and-slide and a ski lift pully. The rope runs in a continual loop, so the performers slide on their backs in the same direction over and over, moving six performers within 30 seconds.
Since Corteo is a traveling performance, everything about the show is mobile. The stage itself is comprised of 272 pieces, fitting together like a puzzle. The entire show is packed into 700 cases, which fill 21 tractor trailers. Everything is able to be unloaded in under five hours. Every piece of equipment, prop, and costume is labeled for which truck it gets loaded into and the order in which it gets loaded. The show has 34 traveling technicians and hires 100 local technicians in each city the show performs. In a similar manner, the wardrobe has several traveling seamstresses, and hires locally in each city. There are over 100 costumes involved, as most performers have multiple ensembles, and everything is ironed and steamed before each show. The show also travels with training equipment and a gym so the performers are able to stay in shape.
The behind-the-scenes information just adds more wonder to the production. Each performer that flips, twirls, jumps, rides, and spins across the stage is able to do so because of countless hours put in by hundreds of people who never step foot on the stage during a performance. Mauro the clown has many friends that want to wish him well during his funeral procession, and many more unseen friends who help make that possible.
For more information on the show, visit cirquedusoleil.com/corteo.