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Solemn magic: Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Corteo’ is a colorful funeral for a clown

Mark Shaub is always ready for a challenge.

It took creators thousands of hours to create costumes for Cirque du Soleil’s “Corte.” (Courtesy of Dominique Lemieux/Cirque du Soleil)

As the artistic director of Cirque du Soleil’s traveling show “Corteo,” Shaub was tasked, along with his staff, with taking the original show from under the big top to an arena show.

“At first, we thought it was too complex to go into the arena format,” Shaub says in an interview from Reno, Nev. “We had to think of creative ways to put ‘Corteo’ into the arena. We actually didn’t scale it down much. Technically, the show is new. Artistically, it looks like what you saw in the big top.”

Shaub says part of what makes “Corteo” work is the stage’s layout.

“We’ve put the stage in the middle of the arena floor so that there is an audience on both sides,” he says. “Each person can see the entire stage from their seat.”

Shaub is also looking forward to returning to New Mexico for the six-performance run.

“I lived in New Mexico for more than a year when I was growing up,” he says. “I always try to get back to the Southwest whenever I get a chance.”

“Corteo” was created in 2005 and premiered under the big top, where it toured for 10 years. It is written and directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca.

By 2015, work began on the redesign for the arena show.

“Corteo” is Italian for “cort e ge,” a solemn procession.

The production follows Mauro the Dreamer Clown, who pictures his own funeral taking place in a carnival atmosphere, quietly watched over by angels.

Shaub says there are 16 acts in “Corteo.”

They include the acrobatic ladder, artist marionette, bouncing beds, a Cyr wheel, helium dance, juggling, suspended pole and teeterboard.

The cast is made up of 51 acrobats, musicians, singers and actors from around the world.

Harvey Donnelly is one of the performers who does tricks on the teeterboard, from which acrobats toss one another into the air.

Donnelly has been part of Cirque du Soleil for eight years and has participated in five shows.

“I’ve done a little bit of all types,” Donnelly says. “I’ve done arena, big top and Broadway.”

Donnelly says what makes “Corteo” unique is that the original design of the show feeling intimate was kept in the transition to the arena.

“When you come into the arena, it’s beautiful,” he says. “All of the costumes and production value is high.”

Donnelly was originally a trampolinist and got his foot in the door with Cirque du Soleil when the company was working with the Michael Jackson estate.

“I managed to get that job on the show and was on it for about three years,” he says. “When I got into Cirque, what I understood about myself is that I was never brilliant at anything, but I was good at everything. I wanted to keep myself diverse, and that lends itself well to these shows. I keep very open to the various disciplines. I’ve also learned the Cyr wheel, which was a trial-by-fire training. They just had me do it. I had to figure it all out on my own.”

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