Cirque du Soleil performers seem to have unflinching trust in their supports. They flip and fly without a shred of apparent doubt in their partner’s grip, or the loop of fabric that keeps them airborne.
It’s refreshing, then, to see Mauro, the star of the arena show “Corteo,” express some doubts. In one early scene, the clown hesitates to accept his “wings” — a harness with white, fluffy plumage, and also the accepted mode of transport for the recently deceased, which he is.
Mauro sits on his death bed, suspended in mid-air, eyeing the angel offering him his new accessories. “The wings are in my size?” he asks. “I need X, X, X, L.”
It’s one of the best-timed jokes in a show full of them. Wednesday night, it earned one of the biggest laughs. When Mauro does eventually take to the air, it’s with a theatrical awkwardness — he’s a human foil to his lithe fellow cast members, who sail through space with uncanny grace.
It’s a smart choice by director and writer Daniele Finzi Pasca, whose self-aware production pokes fun at its own spectacle. “Corteo,” which runs through June 30 at Agganis Arena, follows the loose structure of a funeral procession for dead Mauro and his living circus friends, set in a vaguely European, turn-of-the-century dreamscape.
A chaotic parade of horses, jugglers, and many-sized clowns meanders through Mauro’s memories, evoking an odd mix of whimsy and longing. In one song, adult Mauro begs his former lovers — dangling from three giant chandeliers in their underwear — to stay a little longer. Later, Mauro relives a childhood memory when he plays catch with a marionette come to life.
Lolo Fernandez, the actor who plays Mauro, talks more than the average Cirque performer, which works mostly to his advantage. His freewheeling commentary — in fluid Spanish and stilted English — lends the production warmth. He breaks the fourth wall often. He’ll speak directly to audience members who sit (per the stage’s unique set-up) on either side of him, or, at one point, he’ll rest his head in an audience member’s lap.
Some stabs at humor fall flat. An interlude on a Scottish golf course relies so much on timing that even the smallest misstep derails the joke. Also awkward was a scene in the “Teatro Intimo,” a kind of meta theater-inside-a-theater, where so many things happened at once that following the chain of events proved difficult.
But when attempts at comedy fail, performers can rely on spectacular tricks to win back the audience. On Wednesday, excluding one juggling act gone awry, most tricks landed flawlessly. Death-defying leaps on the teeterboard commanded whoops from the audience. Aurélie Deroux-Dauphin, who manages to sing a song while swinging from aerial silks, is stunning.
Many stories end with death. Others begin there. Cirque du Soleil’s “Corteo” luxuriates in the in-between, skirting the boundary between “alive” and “not” — which is also, appropriately, what the Cirque performers do best, or at least what they trick you into thinking they do. In one of many breathtaking acts, Slava Pereviazko balanced impossibly on a ladder, wobbled violently, and then regained control, to yells from children in the audience and thunderous applause.
A funeral in “Corteo” becomes a daylong festival, suffuse with risk and joy. Its calmest moments come at the very end, after the parade has ended: when Mauro pedals a bicycle through the sky to his final destination, ushered by angels into a blinding light. Of all the ways to die, this might not be the worst way to go.
Presented by Cirque du Soleil. At Agganis Arena, Boston, through June 30. Tickets from $45, 800-745-3000, www.cirquedusoleil.com