The legendary Canadian circus troupe Cirque du Soleil returns to SF for the first time since the pandemic hit, with an eight-show run of Corteo that will transform the Chase Center in ways you’ve never seen, starting this week.

There has not been a Cirque du Soleil performance in San Francisco for the entirety of the pandemic, though that will change with Wednesday night’s SF premiere of Cirque du Soleil Corteo, playing through Sunday, August 27 at the Chase Center. And the folks at Cirque must figure we’ve got this enormous pent-up appetite for it, because they’re coming back to SF with Kooza in January 2024, just five months after Corteo closes here.

SFist checked out Corteo last week at the Oakland Arena. Director Daniele Finzi Pasca hits on an effect that never gets old throughout the show — the arena is transformed into two separate half-theaters, and the acts perform for both sides of the audience. It makes the show feel smaller, more intimate and more magical. You will not have the feeling that you are in an NBA arena.

Photo credit: Maja Prgomet / Cirque du Soleil 2023

The plot, to the degree to which there is one, is of a dying clown named Mauro (Mauro Mozzani) who is either imagining or experiencing his own funeral procession. That sounds like a downer, but considering the inexplicability of the actual plot developments, this does not manifest in depressing fashion.

The show is largely spoken in Italian, with no subtitles, so it’s anyone’s guess what’s really happening in the plot transitions between the performance numbers. Mauro does not interact or really address the crowd at all, so each of his transition numbers just leave the audience with a sense of “Oh, this guy again…”

Photo credit: Maja Prgomet / Cirque du Soleil 2023

Yet the death-defying acrobatic numbers are all show-stoppers. The trapeze act does not use a trapeze, but instead gigantic swinging chandeliers, to triumphant effect. The buff fellows seen above rolling in what appear to be steel hula hoops have many tricks up their sleeve. Roman Munin does a ladder-dancing number, with the ladder not attached to anything, that will have you worried for his safety, and applauding like mad once he’s done. Valentyna Pahlevanyan does a ‘beach ball in a stadium crowd’ stunt with helium balloons that is one of the one the most creative audience-interaction shticks you’re ever likely to see.

Whatever plot there is to Corteo gets abandoned about three quarters into the show, as the cast sets up its finale, encore, and curtain call numbers. And these are all crowd-pleasers! But Cirque du Soleil is perhaps showing its age, or maybe it's that smaller, regional shows are giving platforms to fresher, more up-and-coming performers.

If you’re a Cirque du Soleil fan, or determined to finally see them, Corteo is an absolutely fine night out. But if you want to see the best circus and acrobatic show in town, Dear San Francisco at Club Fugazi is a much more fulfilling experience, and pulls off some of the same stunts in  even more impressive fashion.

Cirque du Soleil ‘Corteo’ runs August 23-27 at the Chase Center. Tickets here

Related: SFist Reviews: Cirque du Soleil's 'Amaluna' [SFist]

Photo credit: Maja Prgomet / Cirque du Soleil 2023