By D.K. Christi

Corteo 2022 Helium 2 (photo by Maja Prgomet)The big tops of generations past, with elephants, tigers and horses sharing the spotlight with trapeze artists and the comic relief of clowns, are now mostly a thing of the past, seen only in movies and television.

Cirque du Soleil, based in Montreal, Canada, has been reimagining big top excitement since 1984. Today it employs 1,200 artists of 80 different nationalities, bringing pageantry, high-flying talent and art to six continents and over 86 countries. The company’s mission is to inspire audiences to see life anew through creativity and art.

This season, the mid-summer doldrums give way to a joyful perspective on life as Cirque du Soleil’s award-winning extravaganza “Corteo” comes to Estero’s Hertz Arena from July 25-28. No elephants or tigers are featured, but the excitement, the showmanship, the creative staging and costumes, and the amazing aerials and acrobatics will lift audiences from their daily cares into a magical world of color, singing, dancing, gravity-defying high-wire acts, and stories inhabiting another time and place.

“Audiences have a great time,” said Jonathon Buese, one of the high-bar performers who left the competitive world of gymnastics when he was recruited by Cirque du Soleil in 2010.

Corteo 2022_RouesCyr1 (photo by Maja Prgomet)A member of the headlining teams in “Corteo,” Buese enriched his gymnastics with pageantry for his aerial and high-wire acts, performing in Cirque du Soleil’s special events “Mystere,” “Alegria,” “Totem,” and now “Corteo.” Most of these were performed in other countries.

“We work together as teams to reach our maximum performance abilities – each person’s success supports the impact and beauty of the precision acts that require exact timing and technical preparation,” Buese explained. “Not only do the artists show gymnastic and acrobatic excellence, many recruited from award-winning athletic careers also learn to dance, act and sing.”

Training is endless. As an artist and performer, Buese transitioned from regular life experiences to performing globally alongside the best artists from different nationalities, enjoying a rich life of diversity and the challenges of learning performance skills beyond his expertise in gymnastics and acrobatics.

Just changing costumes and having technical and safety equipment certified between acts adds a complex dimension to the performances. In the final act of “Corteo,” Buese and other artists cross paths in an act that defies gravity, transporting audiences from their reality into a different world on stage, somewhere between heaven and earth.

Corteo 2022_DuoStraps (photo by Maja Prgomet)“Corteo is the story of a clown looking back over life while at his funeral, staged as a carnival, watched over by angels,” said Buese. “It is also a look at how we live, treat others, and wish to be remembered. Corteo’s purpose is to entertain with aerial and artistic skill of the highest excellence along with the pageantry of live music, singing, dancing and amazing costumes – there is also a subtle introspective on life and how we treat others.”

For those who can escape the performance’s sheer excitement to the senses, the story itself is rife with contradictions between elaborate and simple, large and small, ridiculous and tragic, and especially the fragility and strength of the clown. The lyrical and playful musical accompaniment guides the experience as Corteo’s celebration blends illusion and reality.

Buese noted that the absence of animals in modern pageantry isn’t entirely true for “Corteo” – horses appear, though it takes two artists to form each horse. “Corteo” features a little bit of everything: engaging live music, specially designed stages, lighting and sets, and multiple dazzling costume changes.

Setting the tone for the poetry of “Corteo,” the set curtains, inspired by the Eiffel Tower, and the central curtains, which were hand-painted, give a grandiose feel to the stage, which is centered in the arena with audiences facing each other in the divided venue.

According to a past guest from another city’s performance, Corteo’s tempo, colors, lights, music and artists’ death-defying feats while carrying the story kept him on the edge of his seat until intermission, after which he rushed back for the final act. His entire family was swept away by the extravagant production, which they fondly remember.

“Corteo” is first about the artist, whose individual and team performances require utter precision and perfection of complex actions. The story itself is an integral piece that is also thought-provoking. Creativity and art are the most important tools of “Cirque du Soleil.” Fantastical fun, humor and spontaneity await the audience.

Visit cirquedusoleil.com/corteo for more information.Corteo 2022_Tournik1 (photo by Maja Prgomet)

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