"Corteo," a traveling show by Cirque du Soleil, opens tonight under the big top at the old D.C. Convention Center site. The show follows a clown as he imagines his funeral and its attendants. I know, I know. My first thought was that this sounded like what would happen if Stephen King teamed up with PT Barnum. If you're curious about the show -- and ticket sales indicate that many of you are -- I recently met up with the show's artistic director, Alison Crawford, to answer some of my biggest questions. If the following does not convince you, tune in tomorrow for my thoughts.
Seriously, why a clown funeral?
Daniele Finzi Pasca, the show's creator, director and a trained clown, always wondered who would attend his funeral. The magical (and admittedly a little far-fetched) premise grew from that. Unlike the circuses we know, this is pretty retro. Characters include little people and a giant.
A circus funeral? Pretty macabre, right?
Not exactly, says Crawford. She describes the show as "whimsical, touching, funny, spectacular and grandiose," and one that celebrates the clown's enchanting life. Consequently, it's not like a typical funeral. Bouncing beds, swinging chandeliers and merriment prevail.
Interesting. What's it like inside?
This is no three-ring circus. The arena is inspired by Cathedral of Chartres, with huge curtains, organs and a floorplan modeled after the Chartres labyrinth. The costumes? No nylon clown suits here. They're equally luscious and made of silk, lace, chiffon, velvet and linen with feathers, beads and billowing fabric. Based on old circus costumes, the pieces took over a year to produce and, according to Crawford, are "aged to look like they've been worn for a while." A four-person wardrobe department is constantly on-hand to repair and maintain each costume.
What's it like to perform with Cirque du Soleil?
The diverse cast of more than 60 people represents 15 countries. Casting agents travel the world seeking qualified (read: athletic) people. According to Crawford, "Daniele likes to take normal, inexperienced people with naivete -- young acrobats from around the world -- and capture their natural faces."
The show is here through Nov. 26. Where does the cast stay for all that time?
During each run, the cast and large crew of technicians, aerial riggers, carpenters, costume coordinators, and trainers reside in apartments with a kitchen staff preparing meals. Even a nutritionist is on board to help the cast stay fit. A tutor is available for the crew members who travel with their families.
How should one get into the "Corteo" spirit before seeing the show?
If you plan to go to the show, Crawford suggests that you start the evening at a romantic European dinner with candlelight. A perfect segue would include "a rooftop, musicians and moonlight."
"In this crazy world of violence and anger, it moves and should touch you: There's still beauty in the world," Crawford muses. Leave it to Cirque du Soleil to pay tribute to life by presenting a funeral.
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