Whenever I hear the word “circus” my heart skips a beat. I think it’s because the last time I went to one I was mauled by a bear. I’m not kidding, I was about nine or ten years old and on this fateful day my family had just spent an entire afternoon at the Big Top. When we were about to head home, my younger brother noticed a booth where guests could have their picture taken with a young bear. Technically speaking I suppose it was a “cub,” but keep in mind it still outweighed and outclassed most of the kids in the entire place. Anyway, to make a long story short, my brother just had to have his picture taken with this bear, so my parents caved in and made me go up to get mine too--even though I really couldn’t have cared less. By this point it was getting late and I guess that bear must have been sick and tired of posing with snotty-nosed kids all day long because when it was finally my turn all hell broke loose. Before I even had the chance to say “cheese,” there was a flash of fur and the next thing I knew the handler and photographer were pulling the beast off me. I never did get my stupid picture, and the weirdest thing of all was my brother got his without incident--and he had a lot more meat on the bone than me.
Now you have some idea why I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy to review one of the shows of “Cirque du Soleil” or "Circus of the Sun." As it turns out, though, the world famous spectacle--founded in 1984 by a pair of former street performers named Guy Laliberté and Daniel Gauthier from Québec, Canada--is not your typical circus. Combining athletics, acrobatics, and theatrics with a variety of talented performers and music samplings from around the world, “Cirque du Soleil” is a modern mishmash of performance art. All of the productions also contain no ring or animals, which likely has something to do with the rise in animal protection laws. Either that, or perhaps at some point in their lives Laliberté or Gauthier were a victim of a bear attack too.
Another unique quality of “Cirque du Soleil” is that every new show has its own theme. For example, “Varekai” was based on the Greek myth of Icarus, while “O” located at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas is built entirely around a foundation of water. “Cortéo” or “Cortege” was originally developed in 2005 and is the production on this Blu-ray.
Inspired by "The Grand Parade: Portrait of the Artist as Clown" on display at the National Gallery of Canada, ‘Cortéo’ tells the story of a sad clown (Mauro Mozzani) who witnesses his own funeral. The entire show has a celestial carnival-like ambience to it and takes place on a center stage surrounded by the audience. Angels float on zip wires overhead to create the heavenly atmosphere as a succession of acts celebrates the clown’s life.
Cortéo contains a variety of incredible traditional acts including everything from acrobats, tightrope walkers, and even jugglers. One of the most impressive for me were the trapeze-less trapeze artists consisting of men physically swinging women back and forth and tossing them to one another using only sheer momentum and manpower. Some of the things these people can do is truly outstanding.
The music is just as integral a part of the show, and the artists themselves perform the musical numbers accompanying each act. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a broad range of styles drawing from all sorts of cultures. I’ll admit, I had “oh noes” running through my mind when things kicked off with a sort of jazz number that made me wince, but to be fair I’m not much of a fan of the style to begin with. As the show went on, however, the music constantly evolves with a nice variety so it never gets boring. One standout performance included water-filled crystal glasses, Tibetan bowls, and the ringmaster whistling a tune that was both strange and surreal at the same time.
There's no denying that 'Cirque du Soleil' is a remarkable one-of-a-kind experience. Over the course of more than two decades, its popularity has fueled it into a billion dollar entertainment company employing thousands and holding performances on every continent except Africa and Antarctica. Add to that the fact that 5% of the total visitors in Vegas catch one of these shows every night and it’s pretty clear that its track record speaks for itself. Personally, I still wasn’t completely blown away by the whole thing overall, but I did find it intriguing and I’m glad I had the opportunity to check it out.
Sony delivers ‘Cirque du Soleil: Cortéo’ in 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 (1.78:1 aspect ratio). The back of the case actually includes something I’ve never seen before--a notice that the show was recorded live in low light so the “grain” you’ll see is normal. Sony must be covering the bases just in case that lady who got burned by hot coffee and sued McDonald’s decides to pick up this Blu-ray.
Like the warning label implied, ‘Cirque du Soleil: Cortéo’ doesn’t have the “pop” we’ve come to expect from high-definition. Depending on the lighting and camera angles, some scenes look a lot better than others and there’s a fair amount of grain and bouts of noise in the worst cases. The overall production has a layer of softness to it that masks quite a bit of detail and black levels are pretty murky at times. The “hazy" transfer won’t be able to compete with most other titles, but at least it still tries to replicate a lifelike experience.
The Blu-ray of ‘Cirque du Soleil: Cortéo’ comes equipped with a surprisingly good lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track for a live show. There are a few instances with dialogue in English and most of the songs are sung in French, Italian, or Spanish--but the way the show is presented it’s still pretty well a universal production.
The music is very clean never sounding muffled, and travels about the room making ample use of the rear and bass channels. I could make out every note from the stringed instruments, and the whistling was so clear it almost seemed like I was sitting in the audience. I noticed the vocals weren’t reserved for the center channel and came through the right and left front speakers, although that might just be the result of recording live. Japanese subtitles are also included.
There’s actually a pretty good arrangement of supplements here, and these features come with optional subtitles in English, French, Dutch, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai.
Even if you don’t have a taste for the theatrical, it’s hard to not be amazed and bewildered by the agility and athleticism of the performers in ‘Cirque du Soleil.’ The picture quality of ‘Cirque du Soleil: Cortéo’ isn’t spectacular, but it still holds its own for this type of production, and the audio and supplements help bring together a nice little package on Blu-ray. Obviously home video can’t beat marveling at the ‘Cirque’ phenomenon live, but the Cortéo disc is a window to the mystifying and dreamlike world. Best of all, for folks like me and Stephen Colbert, it’s an entirely bear-free zone.