Review: Corteo (Cirque du Soleil)

Photo: Lucas Saporiti Costumes: Dominique Lemieux © 2015 Cirque du SoleilCirque du Soleil brings its show Corteo to Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena for the Holidays

The Canadian entertainment juggernaut Cirque du Soleil is back in town with their classic show Corteo—playing a short run this week at the Scotiabank Arena (formerly the Air Canada Centre)—just in time for the holidays!

Corteo originally played a longer run in Toronto back in 2005. Cirque du Soleil has taken to adapting their older shows—ones which have already toured the world in their signature tent—to enable them to play in arenas allowing them to profitably run in smaller markets and in cities like Toronto during the cold winter months.

When I last saw Corteo ten years ago there was something magical about the immersive experience of walking into Cirque’s branded big top. The ambiance wasn’t exactly the same this time as I shuffled through security into the concourse of what was obviously a sports stadium. 

But once inside the arena I was amazed by how they transformed the space. The stage bisects the arena so the two halves of the audience watch the show facing each other, effectively creating two adjacent smaller theatres. It felt surprisingly intimate and it certainly didn’t look like a hockey rink.

Photo: Lucas Saporiti Costumes: Dominique Lemieux © 2015 Cirque du Soleil

If you happened to have caught Cirque’s most recent show in Toronto last year—the futuristic, extreme sports-focused, electronic music-infused VOLTA—it’s pretty much the exact opposite of this show aesthetically.

Corteo is a period piece, of sorts. It’s a tribute to the European circus tradition of the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries and director Daniele Finzi Pasca has infused it with Old-World charm. The show opens on the funeral of a clown but far from being morose this funeral turns out to be a joyous celebration as the Dead Clown’s life flashes before his eyes (and ours) as a series of beautifully-staged scenes which become the pretexts for the various circus acts in the show. 

The show features an array of circus disciplines including aerialists, jugglers, trampolinists and gymnasts in a spectacular variation of the gymnastic high bar performed as a group number. All of the acts are as jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring as we’ve come to expect from Cirque.

But what really stands out about Corteo is Finzi Pasca’s skill at composing gorgeous imagery to frame those acts. The show has a wonderfully surreal quality to it. The director plays with proportions—juxtaposing performers of giant stature with Little People on the scene—and often presents circus acts in clever, unexpected ways: chandeliers become trapezes, beds become trampolines, a ladder becomes a prop for a precarious balancing act.

The music by Jean-François Côté, Philippe Leduc, and Maria Bonzanigo is reminiscent of the film scores by the 20th century Italian composers like Henry Mancini and Nino Rota and adds to the Fellini-like quality to the show.

The scenic design by Jean Rabasse is also impressive. There are large, elaborately-painted scrims that roll up to reveal a revolving stage and a system of overhead rails that allows performers to seamlessly fly on and off the scene. Corteo is technically and visually dazzling.

In the end, I’m happy to report that Corteo has retained its soul in the transfer to the arena format. It has every bit as much of the warmth, charm, and beauty as it did when I saw it ten years ago. It’d be a great experience to share with your family this holiday season. 


  • Corteo is playing in Toronto at the Scotiabank Arena (formerly the Air Canada Centre), 40 Bay Street, from December 12 – 16, 2018
  • Tickets $70 – $194
  • To purchase tickets and other information visit 

Photos: Lucas Saporiti Costumes: Dominique Lemieux © 2015 Cirque du Soleil