Art notes

Cirque: now and Zen

Cirque du Soleil is a former street company of jugglers and acrobats that has evolved before our eyes and gaping mouths into a huge corporate circus success. It has 11 shows performing internationally in 2005, including Cirque's latest, "Corteo." Fresh from its Montreal debut and a Toronto stop, it will be here from Friday, Sept. 23 to Oct. 23 at The Parade, 1750 Hennepin Ave. S. (next to the Walker Art Center).

The Cirque company peddles clothes, handbags, books, toys, jewelry, backpacks, dolls, CDs, souvenirs, DVDs and, most of all, excitement with its signature blend of clowning whimsy and daredevil gymnastics and artistry.

One of the people making those thrilling, dangerous antics a lot safer than they appear to be is 40-year-old Danny Zen, the troupe's acrobatic and rigging designer.

"I'm building and thinking about new pieces of equipment for the artists and also everything that is being attached or set up, up in the air," Zen said in a thick French accent over the phone. "The riggers are the people closest to the artists. They've got the artists' lives in their hands. I cannot make mistakes."

He puts together the maze of ropes, cables and pulleys that suspend gear and acrobats in the air in shows around the globe, including resident shows at Las Vegas' Treasure Island, the MGM Grand, Bellagio and New York-New York casinos.

However, Zen no longer travels the planet with Cirque. He's too busy at corporate headquarters in Montreal helping to make new shows safe. He said each of the troupe's intricate, spectacular shows takes about two years to create.

For "Corteo," he helped fashion a trio of 345-pound chandeliers decorated with 4,000 glittering jewels each, floating above the stage. The chandeliers not only have to sparkle, but they have to be able to rise into the air at four feet per second.

"I love trying to find solutions and try to find a way to do stuff. That's why I've been working so long in the studio and not leaving with the tours," Zen said. "Scratching your brain every day for every single detail - I really like to do that."

He said he works 80-90 hours per week while a new show is being put together.

"It's not a work, it's a passion," he said. "'Corteo' took two years of my life right there. After my two weeks of vacation, I'm going for another two years on a new show."

He said the new creation is unnamed at this point, but that in two years, it should be ready for its opening bow.

"Corteo," which means "cortege," or funeral procession, in Italian, is not, in the Cirque sense, really a funeral procession. In this case, it's a joyous parade as imagined by a clown thinking of his own interment taking place.

As is normal for this acrobatic circus, reality and illusion collide, swim in and out of each other, and become one.

"Cirque du Soleil is like a movie," Zen said. "A live movie with the special effects on stage."

Tickets for "Corteo" are $28.75 to $70. Show times are 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 4 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sun. Visit www.cirquedusoleil.com for tickets or information or call 800-678-5440 to buy tickets.

All the leaves aren't brown

The leaves are changing and so are the sounds at Lake Harriet. The summer sounds of kids getting wet and boats being launched are giving way to the autumnal echoes of school kids talking smack about their new teachers and V-formations of geese honking overhead.

Another traditional sound of fall is the collection of notes played by the Minnesota Orchestra opening a new season.

As part of the festivities heralding the 2005-2006 season, the orchestra, led by Music Director Osmo Vnsk, will perform a free open-air concert at the Lake Harriet Bandshell Sunday, Sept. 18 at 4 p.m.

The orchestra will take listeners through a program featuring Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow," Johann Strauss's "Tritsch-Tratsch Polka" and "Feuerfest Polka," John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," the third movement of Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, Jean Sibelius's "Alla Marcia" (from "Karelia Suite)," and Felix Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (summer ends three days after the concert).

The performance at Lake Harriet is part of a celebratory "Get Wrapped Up in the Minnesota Orchestra" weekend, featuring a season opener downtown at a wrapped Orchestra Hall - the building will be covered in huge photos of audience members, musicians and Vnsk.

Visit www.minnesotaorchestra.org for more information.

Fiery legacy

Hot-as-Tabasco Louisiana swamp-blues guitarist Kenny Neal tears it up at Famous Dave's, 3001 Hennepin Ave. S., on Thursday, Sept. 15 at 8 p.m.

Neal's Baton Rouge blues comes from that sweaty part of the world, as well as from the genes passed along by his dad, harpist Raful Neal (a.k.a. "The Little Walter of Louisiana"), who died a year ago at age 68 of cancer.

Kenny carries on his father's lowdown, hot 'n' growly musical legacy more than capably.

If you're looking for a bit of soulful blues to add to your CD collection, check out Kenny's "Walking on Fire" (Alligator Records, 1991), featuring the Horny Horns - alto saxist Maceo Parker and trombonist Fred Wesley. The Horns once blew behind the Godfather of Soul, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Soul Brother Number One, etc., etc., James Brown.

Admission to see Kenny Neal is five bucks. Call 822-9900 for more information.