‘Corteo’ puts the ‘fun’ in ‘funeral’

Betsy PickleArts 865, Feature

Cirque du Soleil’s “Corteo” is spinning audiences into a frenzy at Knoxville’s Thompson-Boling Arena.

“Corteo,” which is Italian for “cortege,” builds its feats of athletic wizardry and comical scenarios around an imaginary funeral. Generally, the fun of funerals is located only in the first three letters of the word, but this presentation by Cirque is liberally sprinkled with boisterous comedy.

The show’s nonintrusive storyline regards a circus clown, Mauro, imagining his own funeral. Friends and fellow performers parade across the stage and through the air as gentle angels keep watch.

Some of the connections to Mauro are more obvious than others. It really doesn’t pay to focus on the narrative. The key to enjoying “Corteo” is simply to sit back and be impressed and amazed at the skill and daring of the acrobats and other performers.

Possibly the highlight of the program is the Acrobatic Ladder act, in which an agile man maneuvers a ladder to get closer to the angel beckoning him from above. His movements and demeanor upon his precarious perch are nail-biters that pay off in an emotional dance.

Another peak is the woman on the suspended pole, whose gracefulness is surpassed only by her amazing upper-body strength. Several group acts are knockouts, but a favorite will be the five performers on Cyr wheels rolling singly and together in a gorgeous and dizzying display.

There have been so many hula-hoop and juggling practitioners through the years that audiences tend to get a bit jaded about them, but the ones in “Corteo” are the cream of the crop. The female juggler is memorable not only for her skill but also for her joie de vivre and connection with the crowd.

There are impressive feats in the air and on the bars that should not be missed. For sheer laughs, a bit with an impudent golf ball takes the prize.

“Corteo” continues with shows at 7:30 p.m. today (4/21) and 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are available at the box office and at knoxvilletickets.com. A clear-bag policy is in effect at the arena.

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