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"Corteo" by Cirque du Soleil

A scene from "Corteo" by Cirque du Soleil, which stops at Pinnacle Bank Arena next weekend.

Courtesy photo

When he was 20, Ciprian Veres ran off with the circus. He wasn’t a modern day Toby Tyler, tagging along with a traditional three-ring traveling show. He left Romania to join Cirque du Soleil.

“I was a gymnast for 16 years before I started with Cirque du Soleil,” Veres said. “I started gymnastics when I was four. When I was 20, I decided to join the circus. I had some friends that were in Cirque du Soleil and talked about it with them. I thought, why not?”

That was in 2005. The newcomer immediately joined the Cirque’s newest show, “Corteo,” which premiered in Montreal in May of that year. He’s been with it since, performing under the big top for a decade in 64 cities in 19 countries, then, for the past three years, playing one-week stops in arenas.

“If it feels like home, you stay,” Veres said of sticking with “Corteo,” which will stop at Pinnacle Bank Arena next week.

The show, which combines acrobatics, music, singing and acting, is described like this on Cirque du Soleil’s website:

“The clown Mauro has passed, but his spirit is still with us. Instead of mourning, the funeral cortege celebrates the here and hereafter with laughter and exuberance. Rich, extravagant memories frolic with the senses. The sound of laughter peels around the stage, visions of joyous tumblers and players fascinate the eyes. Regret and melancholy retreat in the face of a cavalcade of lively recollections of a life gloriously lives. A festive parade that entertains; the perfect accolade for an artists whose life was dedicated to revelry and making merry."

Veres, who serves as a clown backup, performs in two setups during the 2 set, 2 hour show — a trampoline act and a high-bar act with gymnasts flying back and forth between sets of bars that serves as the climax of “Corteo.”

“It’s the last set of the show,” Veres said. “It’s a complex high-bar act. We’re swinging all together in different timings. It’s the last segment for the clown before he flies away. It’s the farewell, the goodbye. Everyone is on stage for that.”

And, if you’re on the bars, you better be good at gymnastics — very, very good at gymnastics.

“You have to be a high-level gymnast to do it,” Veres said. “I was a bronze medalist in rings at the European Championship in 2002 in Greece. Most of us have been in the European championships, the Olympics, world championships.

“Besides the precision and the strength (required in all gymnastics), it’s also the timing. In gymnastics, we’re swinging by ourselves on the high bar. This is a little bit difficult. You don’t have just one. You have all of us swinging. That has to be perfectly timed with no mistakes.”

“Corteo” will be performed at the arena once on Thursday, once on May 18 and twice each day on May 19 and 20.

“We do two shows sometimes,” Veres said. “We’re training all the time. All of us are in top shape. We can perform any day, any hour. How do I say it? This is our job and we do it.”

So how is that job different than gymnastics?

“It’s a little different,” Veres said. “You don’t have just one competition, you’ve got people at the end of the show screaming and applauding. It’s amazing. In gymnastics, you have one competition, then months of training. Here, it’s every day.”

Over the last 13 years, Veres has been done “Corteo” more than 3,000 times, playing to more than 8 million people around the globe. That, one would think, would make him an expert on why the show has such enduring appeal.

But he hesitated to make that judgment. “I’ve watched it a few times, but most of the time, I’m performing in it rather than watching,” he said.

Then he gave it a shot: “I can tell you, it’s a roller coaster,” Veres said. “You can cry, you can laugh. It’s up and down. You have to see it to understand it and the story line, of course. People really like it, I can tell you that. They need to come and see it.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or kwolgamott@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSWolgamott.

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Entertainment reporter/columnist

L. Kent Wolgamott is an entertainment reporter and columnist.

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