WEST VALLEY CITY — For a show about a funeral, “Corteo” is surprisingly happy.
The latest Cirque du Soleil arena show, “Corteo” refers to the Italian word for procession. In this case, it's a funeral procession for Mauro the clown, but rather than be sad, the would-be mourners choose to smile.
“The funeral cortege celebrates the here and hereafter with laughter and exuberance,” according to the show's description. “The perfect accolade for an artist whose life was dedicated to revelry and making merry.”
“Corteo” gives the clown's revelry a run for his money: Throughout Daniele Finzi Pasca's production, marionettes come to life, musicians perform songs on glasses, acrobats swing from glittering chandeliers and gravity-defying angels fly through the sky.
But the festive story, which premiered in 2005, now comes to life in a different format. The big-top circus ran for about 10 years before undergoing a radical transformation, trading in the showy circus tent for a large arena, according to a news release. The restaged show premiered earlier this year, and now Utah gets a dose of the magic when “Corteo” runs at the Maverik Center from Sept. 27-30.
What's happening behind the scenes is just as impressive as the onstage spectacle. For starters, each high-flying angel is trailing 25 meters of fabric that designers have painstakingly and safely arranged around giant wings, a hoop skirt and a harness. The amount of fabric used just for the angels adds up to more than 500 meters in length.
And what's the trick to making that feat seem seamless?
“It’s magic!” said Jason Brass, the show's head of wardrobe.
Magicians don’t usually reveal their secrets, but Brass suggested there's a different kind of magic at play here: an incredible amount of hard work and collaboration, which reflects the message of the show.
“The show is more of a theater piece about the human aspect of the body,” he explained. “A lot of the cirque shows have an element of fantasy, but this show is very human. It’s a very touching piece. The costumes are more suits and ties and less creature-oriented.”
The traveling production carries an estimated 3,000 costume items wherever it goes, and the performers use around 1,200 costume items for each show. For designers, the job is a constant cycle of checking and rechecking costumes to make sure all buttons and snaps are fastened and secure — especially for footwear. Along with “maintaining the artistic integrity of the show,” Brass said keeping the performers safe is the No. 1 priority.
The job is tricky enough, but when you add in the costume changes — there's more than 50 artists in the show and some of the performers have up to six costumes — it can become quite daunting. The fastest costume change is 45 seconds, but fortunately Brass has a number of people on hand — including hired locals from each city the show visits — to provide assistance.
But worrying about the costumes doesn't end once the curtain closes. After the show, all of the costumes need to be washed — amounting to 36 loads of laundry per day in the six washers and two dryers that the show team brings with them. And after every performance, each shoe is repainted and checked for repairs.
In addition to the costumes, the hair and makeup, under Nathalie Gagne's direction, also reflect the show's effort to be less fantastical — the performers don't use wigs — but sometimes even simplicity can require a lot of material and work. Though simple in style, applying makeup can take each performer up to 90 minutes each day. Performers go through more than 200 bottles of liquid foundation and hundreds of eye shadows, blushes, pencils and lipsticks each year, according to Brass.
But beyond the thousands of costume items, 500 meters of fabric for the high-flying angels and hundreds of eye shadows, Brass believes the show's real magic can be found in the audience.
“I love going and watching the show and seeing our efforts come together, but I also love going and watching the public’s reaction,” Brass said. “I really hope they are inspired to think outside the box about life.”
If you go …
What: “Corteo” Cirque du Soleil tour
When: Sept. 27 and 28, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 29, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sept. 30, 1 and 5 p.m.
Where: Maverik Center,3200 Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City
How much: $39–$125