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Cirque du Soleil
Concord Pacific Place
June 14-July 20
$42-$220 at 1-800-361-4595

It’s starting to look as though Cirque du Soleil’s visits to Vancouver are becoming an annual affair.  The big blue and yellow tent across from GM Place is now as familiar and welcome a sight as the red and white tents of the Children’s Festival and Bard on the Beach in Vanier Park. But familiarity also breeds expectation. Cirque has set its bar—and its prices—very high.  As spectacular as much of it is, this year’s show, Corteo, may not quite reach the heights of previous Cirques. Which is a concern when parking costs $30 and the starting price for an adult ticket is twice that.

One constant about Cirque shows is how beautiful they look—Corteo, staged in the round, features a diaphanous turquoise curtain painted with the show’s theme of angels, and performers costumed like exquisite Victorian Christmas tree ornaments. There’s also the usual stirring world-style music and fascinating visual tableaus. During one routine where four performers whirl around the stage inside giant hoops, a harlequinesque clown, all in white, slowly walks a tightrope high above them—upside down.

But what you mostly come to see at Cirque are the amazing acrobatics, and here the first act of Corteo is a little disappointing.  There are some very cool routines: four beautiful women in their underwear on crystal chandelier trapezes, a tightrope walker spinning hula hoops, acrobats bouncing around trampoline beds and others catapulting each other off a teeter-totter. But none is quite the killer act you’re used to seeing from Cirque.  And there’s an awful lot of comic filler, the straight clowning being to my mind the least interesting part of a Cirque show.  One sequence that is a lot of fun involves a little person, held aloft by helium balloons, who floats over and into the audience where she’s bounced around like a beach ball at a rock concert.

Post-intermission is where the best action is, though again interrupted by some lame comedy.  At one point it literally rains rubber chickens.  But here’s where you really get your money’s worth and where the critic starts to run out of adjectives like spectacular, astonishing, and unbelievable. I don’t even know how to describe the act where muscular men high up on three posts play catch with women doing various amazing flips and things.  Or the acrobatic juggling routine so complex and fast and perfect that it’s hard to believe it’s real.  Or the duo flying around on straps who absolutely fracture your understanding of what stomach muscles can do.  Or the mind-boggling finale on high bars performed by what looks like the Russian Olympic gymnastic team.

That’s how high the bar will be set for next year’s Cirque show.

Jerry Wasserman