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FRESNO — One of Cirque Du Soleil’s most popular productions is coming to The Valley next month.

Six performances of “Corteo” are scheduled Sept. 20-23 at the Save Mart Center in Fresno.

The show, directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, debuted in Montreal in 2005 and has since been seen by over 8 million fans in 19 countries.

The show, which combines theatrics, acrobatics, music, comedy and more, shows the audience a dying dream of a clown. A joyous, festive parade ushers the clown into the afterlife, he imagines. As he recalls his life, loves and friendships, they appear on stage, in the air and in the orchestra pit, creating a bittersweet carnival atmosphere.   

“It’s somewhere between reality and heaven,” musician Philippe Poirier said to the Sentinel while preparing for a week of performances in Louisville. The saxophone player said he was checking out some of Kentucky’s famous bourbon distilleries on his day off.

The Québécois has been with Cirque du Soleil since 2009, performing in,”Saltimbanco,” which he said differs from his current show in at least one big way.

“This show is more human,” the backup band leader said. Other Cirque shows are made up of casts of inhuman characters, with actors made up to become bugs or zebras, “Corteo” is full of human characters. The makeup is understated, the characters are real people.

“Every character is human so you can feel the passion, the sadness and see a reaction the way a real human would,” he said.

The cast features 51 acrobats, musicians, singers and actors from all around the world. The set curtains, inspired by the Eiffel Tower, and the central curtains, which were hand painted, give a grandiose feel to the stage. The music turns lyrical and playful carrying "Corteo" through a timeless celebration in which illusion teases reality.

The stage is divided in two, but not necessarily stage left and right, Poirier said, so much as stage up and down.

“It’s a beautiful way to transition because sometimes [the audience] will be looking upward and everything will change on the floor, where you’ll be looking for the next act. All the changes are done smartly and it’s a beautiful show. The acrobats are superhuman,” he said.

Poirier plays saxophone, flute, clarinet and keyboards. This versatility has helped in the world of Cirque, where being a jack of all trades is a valuable commodity, he said.

Poirier studied jazz performance in college, but does the world of Cirque lend to much improvisation? It may be easy to think so. From an audience point of view, the whimsical chaos on stage seems like it could lend itself to the on-the-fly world of jazz.  

Yes and no, Poirier said.

“For sure [acrobats] don’t like if something is changing every day,” he said, adding, “But on the other part, I have a couple of solos and I like my stuff to stay fresh. Let’s say I have to stay in the margin.”

Poirier said that Murphy’s Law applies as much on stage as it does in life and anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

“Sometimes the acrobats drop. They do. It’s part of life, it’s normal,” he said. “So things are always changing. You need to be able to improvise and be comfortable in a situation where you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Anything can happen and we prove that no matter what gets thrown at us, we make it [through] and I think the majority of the time, the audience can’t even tell what’s different.”

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