Revisiting Corteo

I took my family to see Corteo when it was in town. My sons got a visual and musical trip through their childhoods and I got to kvell about the folks I performed with who are still in the show. Fifteen years on they look and sound better than ever.

Jeff Raz in Corteo

Corteo has been re-conceived for arenas and, to my surprise, it still has its charm and is funnier in some places. To shorten the show, they made some sections faster, which helped the comedy — “louder, faster, funnier”. Of course, there are still acts that would benefit from the advice the great clown Geoff Hoyle gave to my Clown Conservatory students every year – “simplicity and logic.”

One act that is the epitome of simplicity is “Helium,” in which Valentyna Paylevanyan floats over the audience suspended from huge helium balloons. Nothing fancy, no amazing acrobatics, no intricate choreography, just one small clown chatting with the audience as she lands in their hands, and they push her back into the air.

I had the joy of doing “Helium” with Valentyna 500 times, a whole chapter of The Secret Life of Clowns is about this act, and I’ve told a story about Valentyna to thousands of clients over the years (many of them went to see Corteo on its U.S. tour and sent me real-time pictures of “Helium.”) Valentyna and her husband Grigor, who is also in Corteo, live in Odesa, Ukraine and, when the war started, I didn’t know if they were safe. Seeing them, hugging them, made me cry.

Circus friends come from all over the world, and we usually stay friends for life. They challenge my ideas about acrobatics, juggling, clowning, warming up, eating and everything else in life. Since I love them, circus friend help me do what Beryl Hugill says is the job of a clown “…to help alleviate the iniquities of our society and the vulnerability of our human condition…for the clown is, in essence, a creature of love.”*

*Beryl Hugill Bring on the Clowns 1980