The Cirque de Soleil is always trying to reinvent itself while staying close enough to its roots so as not to be confused with other, lesser acts. And on Friday, May 13th, I tried my luck with their latest installment, Corteo.

After leaning toward adult productions, the Cirque has come back to its beginnings, sort of.

There was much hype for one of their newer shows a couple years back called Zumanity. Pegged as an 18-plus show, it pushed boundaries and brought the Cirque from a show with an amazing display of bone-bending acrobatics, to one of taboo and sexual innuendo.

Some people loved it and said it was about time they explored the sexual side of humans. The performers are half naked already so it wasn’t that far of a stretch.

Others whined that wholesome Canadian entertainment such as the Cirque shouldn’t have to bow to the pressure of the sexual openness that represented, to a certain extent, Quebec society.

Either way, it was much publicized and the only negative aspect I can think of is why the hell was it in Las Vegas and not in Quebec?

Then along came their newest edition, Corteo.

The costumes look like throwbacks from anywhere between 1920 and 1950 with a tribute to the Italy of yesteryear. This strayed from their usual skin-tight leotards with colours so bright they look like they were painted on bare skin.

Amazingly, there wasn’t a small Asian contortionist kid in sight the whole night. That’s where the midgets came in.

It seemed like they were trying to replace Asian children of previous shows with midgets in a way that didn’t exactly work. Granted, it was part of the Corteo vision which had virtually no place for kids, but it failed. The midgets weren’t amazing in the least and only mildly entertaining.

The best part of the various acts involving small people was when the female midget floated around on and off stage in a little bucket with giant balloons holding her aloft. The crowd enjoyed whisking her away when she landed in their laps and her high-pitched squeals suggested that she seemed to like it as well. But remember, that was the fairly entertaining pint-sized act.

One of the midget acts that fell flat on its face was the play-in-a-minibus. What was supposed to be a stab at a pseudo-Shakespearean comedy ended up bringing tears to my eyes because it was so painful to watch.

Certain aspects, such as the props being attacked by a stagehand and the prop master falling through the roof, were funny. But the whole act lasted about 15-20 minutes and that was 15 minutes too long.

Corteo is derived from the Italian word, “Corteggio,” which means a funeral procession. This version of the word is based on a clown’s view of his own funeral, complete with the carnival-like atmosphere that is supposed to highlight the differences between big and small, perfection and imperfection, and the ridiculous with the tragic. It is set somewhere between heaven and hell.

Somebody forgot to tell them that seeing a really big person or a really small midget just isn’t ironic enough anymore when all one has to do to see weird events is watch a reality show on TV or the Michael Jackson trial.

The juggling may have been the best part of the night. It’s an amazing sight to watch four young jugglers acrobatically juggling various items, from bowling pins and balls to small hoops while sitting on each other’s shoulders or switching places with the other through their legs, while never missing a beat.

I must admit that I’m very picky after having witnessed the magic and splendor of Dralion and Varekai, the two Cirque shows that preceeded Corteo’s unveiling, a few years before in Montreal.

They created a world of wonder and amazement, a world that people wanted to visit, if only for a couple hours. A world so far removed from ours it may as well have been Neverland with a double-jointed Peter Pan and a death-defying Tinker Bell.

Instead, their latest show reminded me of a live version of Tim Burton’s Big Fish.

Surreal to say the least, but a place that you don’t want to visit for too long because you just might turn into a freak yourself.

The acrobats could have been part of a kiddy circus. They did the same thing over and over and never really made the audience gasp. It was not what I expected from the daredevil antics of former busker and Cirque founder Guy Laliberte. I actually yawned during that part.

The tight-rope walker was very good, skilled and daring, but being securely tied down just isn’t as exciting as knowing that if she screwed up, she’d fall. Into a net usually, but she would fall nonetheless.

The dude who whistles along with Mozart and Beethoven and later gets into a duel with a violinist was quirky, original and fun.

The quartet that rolls around in giant hoops was very cool. Two in particular almost left me queasy and I wondered how one didn’t fall over from dizziness – or vomit onto the other.

All in all there were too many acts that fell short of the excellence the Cirque de Soleil name exudes. If this were my first show, I’d have thought it amazing, but since it was my third, I expected more

out of the creators.

It still earns a respectable three stars out of five and is something to watch. There are no shows that even come close to the creativity and originality of this modern day circus, and the best part is it was born right here in Quebec!

Corteo runs until June 19. For tickets call (514) 790-1245 or visit on the web.