Cirque's "Varekai": Finding Whereverland

"Russian Swings" Finale in Cirque du Soleil's "Varekai"

Just about everything in a typical production by Cirque du Soleil falls under the category of extraordinary. “Varekai”, their current creation appearing in Providence, is no exception. The word means “wherever” in the Romani language of gypsies, those nomadic souls known as universal wanderers (and, it must be said, not always portrayed benevolently elsewhere). The story begins deep in a forest at the summit of a volcano, (“a captivating forest inhabited by whimsical and enchanted creatures”), where a solitary man, Icarus, parachutes in from the sky to a fantastical kaleidoscopic world where “something else is possible”. Thus begins a journey “both absurd and magical”, as the troupe describes it, populated with characters such as the funny Skywatcher, the Betrothed, and The Guide. As with most Cirque du Soleil productions, the story exists as a structure intended to support a series of athletic and acrobatic showstoppers.

The Acts include variations of performances that the company is justly renowned for, including the flight of Icarus (a spectacular entrance if there ever was one), trapeze artists, aerial strap hangers, a Georgian dance, hand balancing on canes, “Icarian games” (humans juggling humans), Russian swings, and clowns, as well as some strikingly original ones, such as a solo artist on crutches. There are even baton twirlers. They are accompanied by two singers, The Patriarch and the Muse, as well as a seven piece band. This production is heavy on the clowning (several times going on a bit long), best in the “following the follow spot” number. Standout acts include the solo trapeze artist hanging by the back of her neck and a dazzling twosome on aerial straps. But the greatest is saved for last, with the entire company on hand, as exemplified by the photo above. The sets are minimalist, but the costumes and props are fantastic.

If this show isn’t quite as overwhelming as some of their other efforts, with respect to those acrobatic athletes, for those of us who find balancing a checkbook too challenging, this is quite a demonstration of superhuman abilities. Unaccountably, the lobby souvenir stores still don’t offer gym memberships. While the emphasis of this particular production is on an “incantation to life rediscovered”, the familiar subtext of a tribute to centuries of circus traditions is also there. Should you see it? As teenagers today might put it, “Wherever”.

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