There’s enough great stuff in the first act of Cirque du Soleil’s “Corteo” to make up for the lack of it in the second.
More than four dozen performers with cut-glass abdomens and no fear fill the stage with grace, strength and beauty. My favorite was an act in which several men became life-size versions of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, but with pants. The shirtless men fit themselves into man-sized gold rings and then twirl around the stage in them, doing tricks and sometimes propelling half of their bodies outside their rings in an impressive display of centrifugal force.
Other highlights include: female aerialists who pirouette on ribbons, suspended high above the stage. A teeter-totter trampoline, in which four guys rocket into the air to do the sort of twisty flips that win Olympic diving medals — except they don’t have the benefit of water beneath them (it all looks extremely hazardous and I’m guessing it is, since it’s the only act in which spotters are visible). And a take on the sports arena audience-participation game where fans try to keep an enormous beach ball floating around the venue as long as possible. In “Corteo,” however, there’s a person attached to the ball, and the audience is asked to push her away from or toward the stage, which is on the floor of the Target Center, with the audience on two sides of it.
Coming toward the end of the first act, the beach ball thing is fun but, as is usually the case at sporting events, too, it extends past its sell-by date. That presages a problem in the second act, which is that the pace feels off after an unnecessary intermission that’s more like an inter-merch-ion, nothing but an excuse to sell badges, posters, stickers and T-shirts.
A gymnast who balances atop a 15-foot ladder and, à la Jackie Chan, turns it into his own personal jungle gym, does come after the intermission, and he is one of the best of the evening’s acts, but a loud parody of “Romeo and Juliet” is that deadly combo of too long and not one bit funny. A battle between a violinist and an impressive whistler also drags, although it underscores a strength of “Corteo,” which is Jean-Francois Cote’s lively — and live — music, a combo thrillingly demonstrated by an aerialist who sings a number while also defying death, hanging above the stage by her toes as if it’s no big deal.
I haven’t mentioned the story of “Corteo,” because it’s hardly worth mentioning. Supposedly, creator Daniele Finzi Pasca envisioned the evening as a clown dreaming of his own elaborate funeral, but he’s the least interesting thing in the show, which is best understood as a vaudeville-like collection of acts. The less you try to assemble the dialogue and sung-in-Italian tunes into a narrative, the better.