The Sound of Crystals at Corteo

Inside rehearsals at the traveling Cirque du Soleil show

Behind the curtain: rehearsal time at Cirque du Soleil's Corteo, currently performing at the Moody Center. (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

There's a light tinkle of crystals. A slight disturbance of the air. A spin, and then the sound of light-shoed feet grazing along the stage.

It's rehearsal time in Austin for Corteo. And you can tell it's Austin because, backstage, there's a gigantic sign that says "Welcome to Austin" over a Cirque du Soleil banner. Alexandra Gaillard, the show's resident traveling PR expert, smiles as she notes how important it is. Otherwise, the cast and crew of the leviathan traveling enterprise might confuse it with one of the other cities into which the show has brought its magic over the last 17 years.

Behind the curtain: rehearsal time at Cirque du Soleil's Corteo, currently performing at the Moody Center. (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

There are other local signs. The canteen staff specialize in cooking local recipes with local ingredients. Local costumiers hired to supplement the touring wardrobe department.

But, like any troupe of this scale, Corteo is a city on the move. Twelve semis transporting the costumes, equipment and wonder that keep the 53 artists from 28 different nations up in the air. And the musicians, and engineers, and rigging experts, and even PR people like Gaillard, the modern version of the old carnival barker - but, like so much about Cirque du Soleil, a new, wild, magical version, a glowing city that steps in the footsteps of a thousand circuses and carnivals before.

But the city came to a halt during the pandemic for 818 days ("No shows, nothing.") and it's clear that Gaillard was counting every day. Now she, and all the cirque are back under the big top - or, this weekend, at Austin's Moody Center. And as we walk across what is normally the basketball court, aerialists swing from giant chandeliers, defying gravity, perfecting their art, trying new movements, carefree, fearless.

The death bed of Mauro the clown, the center of the celebration of life in Cirque du Soleil's Corteo (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

And it is all in service of not just spectacle, but a performance of wonder. Gaillard called Corteo "the story of Mauro, his funeral or dream. Even for those on stage, some of them it's a dream, some of them it's their reality and a way to celebrate his life."

And on the wake of the pandemic, such a celebration feels a little more universal and meaningful to Gaillard, who still gets a little misty-eyed about the show. "Sometimes, when you go to a show or a movie, it's just entertainment. This is entertainment, but I think you come home with some poetry, too."

Cirque du Soleil: Corteo
Through Sun., Feb. 5
Moody Center, 2001 Robert Dedman
$49 and up ($39, kids under 12)

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Cirque du Soleil, Corteo, Moody Center

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