Cirque du Soleil

Creator Guy Laliberté Musical Director Violaine Corradi Costumes Eiko Ishioka Set Design Stéphane Roy
Dates June 22 through July 23, 2006 Venue Le Grand Chapiteau, Concord Pacific Place

Reviewers John Jane & Ed Farolan


Icarus’s fall to earth
In 1984, a contemporary vision of circus entertainment was conceived by a Quebecois troupe, Cirque du Soleil. "Le Cirque" excludes live animals, relying more on human skills executed with high precision choreography and exquisite stagecraft and costumes.

For Cirque devotees, the recent addition Varekai (which in the Romany language means Wherever) certainly is not a disappointment. It has all the mind-blowing elements of previous productions such as incredible aerial acrobatics and some amazing juggling as well as an enchanting menagerie of bizarre and grotesque creatures that populate the stage throughout the show.

There is also entertaining comic relief provided by Steven Bishop and Joanna Holden who engage the audience before and during the show. In the first act they do a “Slapstick Magician” shtick, where all the tricks hilariously misfire. In the second act, Bishop chases an errant spotlight around the stage while attempting to sing Jacques Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas.”

Mime artist, Michel-André Cardin is captivating as the Skywatcher. His naked torso appears to sprout from a tree stump as he wages a single-handed battle against noise pollution. Grasping “mechanical” sounds from unseen airplanes and cars he puts them through his sound machine that converts them into pleasanter natural sounds.

As with previous productions, Varekai uses a vague storyline to provide a concept for the original music and individual performances. This presentation adapts the legend of Icarus’s fall to earth when he loses his wings through flying too close to the Sun. For his foolishness, the gods compel him to marry a creature who is half-woman, half-lizard. Icarus graciously accepts his “punishment” but his “Betrothed” suddenly metamorphoses into a beautiful hand-balancing, contortionist. (Irina Naumenko)

Violaine Corradi's mythical new-age score is haunting, yet not particularly inspiring Sttéphane Roy’s contextualized set design consists of an essentially round stage with a “forest” of aluminum poles that partially screen the musicians from the audience. Eiko Ishioka's extravagant costumes incorporate all the magical elements of the imaginary creatures of the land, water and air.

Varekai is at times confusing, other times exhilarating, but always entertaining.

© 2006 John Jane

Vladimir Ignatenkov as Solo

VAREKAI is a story of fantastical creatures living deep within a forest, at the summit of a volcano, existing in an extraordinary, fantasy world. From the sky falls a young man into this magical forest, and he sets off on an extraordinary adventure.

The word varekai means "wherever" in the Romany language of the gypsies, the universal wanderers of this world. And Circus folks are traditionally known to be gypsies, traveling from place to place. Thus, the producers of Cirque du Soleil, who I'm sure have the gypsy in them, say the following about Varekai: "This production pays tribute to the nomadic soul, to the spirit and art of the circus tradition, and to the infinite passion of those whose quest takes them along the path that leads to Varekai".

I remember the circus in my childhood days, and it was always exciting to go and watch the animals, lion tamers, acrobats, clowns, trapeze artists, and so forth and so on. Cirque du Soleil has modernized all this. The animals are now the humans dressed like them-all these changes, I'm sure, because of SPCA and animal rights groups. Perhaps it's also more economical to dress like animals than to have to haul them from place to place.

Even trapeze artists are now harnessed and secure. Gone are those days where trapeze artists would dare fly and excite the crowds because there were no safety nets below.

The risqué factor is gone. And yet somehow, this particular circus group has managed to revitalize the meaning of Circus by adding elements to it to make it spectacular: theatre, dance, magic - all integrated in what we once referred to as "the 3-ring circus." There is still the emcee who talks to us, but in this show, purposely inaudible, drowned out by blaring music and sound effects, since this circus has become international and he has to perform to different people in different countries with different languages.

However, the music is universal -- the music of Varekai is the music of fantasy. Although the acrobatic stints are still the same, Cirque du soleil has glamorized it with not only shiny costumes but innovative ones, as well as make up different from typical circus make-up. And acrobats are no longer in the circle, isolated from the crowds, but flying towards them in flowing costumes.

The light and sound effects have become more sophisticated, and the transitions from one scene to another, flawless. It's a spectacle to watch, an extravaganza for young and old, and it bewilders, it fantasizes, it excites you as acrobats do their almost impossible feats, and contortionists twisting every part of their body, and jugglers with new tricks up their sleeve-ping pong balls coming out of their mouths or hats flying like Frisbees in the sky. Truly amazing, and that is how Cirque du Soleil has gained the reputation of being the ultimate theatre production.

© 2006 Ed Farolan