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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Varekai!

Try and describe Cirque du Soleil to the uninitiated and the chances are you’ll be up against a wall of indifference. On paper, the concept doesn’t really incite a state of euphoria. After all, the basic element being circus isn’t everyone’s idea of entertainment. Like the best flights of fancy, given the chance, the heady mix of dance, live music, theatre, comedy and of course contemporary circus, will leave you breathless with its sheer vitality and surreal ambience. Such are the shows from this successful troupe, Varekai being no exception.

Varekai has a very loose narrative. It's based upon a twist of the Greek legendary character Icarus with his waxed and feathered wings that flew too close to the sun and fell to his doom in the ocean. The idea is simple. Instead it suggests he fell into a forest, survives and takes refuge amongst curious inhabitants whilst he heals. The opening scenes where the falling Icarus descends to the forest floor complete with wings shedding feathers is beautiful in its execution and sets the tone for the next two hours.

Cirque du Soleil’s live music is always excellent. Haunting ambient scores with gentle vocals, folk incantations and energetic rhythms enhance the performance on stage at all the right moments. Being a live show where action often flows at a relatively unpredictable rate, it’s a credit to the musicians’ and vocalists’ skill to adlib a pace that compliments the current act.

Acts are a mix of the usual old favourites although as new ideas are introduced, often ever more daring feats of pure physical excellence are displayed. Without spoiling too much for those who’ve yet to experience any of the wide range of Cirque’s shows, Varekai offered some outstanding set pieces. I'll mention just two. Aerial straps involving a bungee like display of aerial acrobatics with twin brothers Kevin and Andrew Atherton were a thrill. A mix of dance and stunts performed on crutches by disabled Dergin Tokmak almost stole the show, his skill and upper body strength putting him at an equal with his more able bodied colleagues. In fact, there was a definite underlying message of rising up to overcome the most deliberating of circumstances. Quite powerfully put across when the man with crippled legs danced in front of the supposedly crippled man who fell from the sky.

Of all the strong areas of this show, one of which has to be the makeup and costumes. Imaginative, the designs are lifted straight out of the depths of dreams with every whimsical character gloriously realised. The colour even filters through to the humour. Cirque’s and moreover Varekai’s modern take on traditional clowns receive genuinely laugh-out-loud comedy. If I had to be really critical, my only gripe here would be that a couple of the characters didn’t fit amongst the surreal landscape Varekai effortlessly paints. A small criticism, one that fades away when you realise just how funny the small departure really is and I suppose it just makes the return to the dream all the more mesmerising.

Like I said earlier, Varekai on paper may not come across as something to rave over, yet Cirque du Soleil has this uncanny knack of being greater than the sum of its parts. Expensive it may be too but to live within a captivating make believe world for an evening and have your life enriched with the memory, is priceless.
On a personal note, it has to be said that the sheer locality of where Cirque du Soleil chooses to pitch its touring Grand Chapiteau means I’ve just watched it being packed away. To witness such is rather sad. Soon it’ll all be loaded on trucks and the circus will leave town. Until next time…

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