Out of the sky, into the arena

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Varekai’ in Philadel­phia

The Review - - News - By Brian Bingaman bbinga­man@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @bri­an­binga­man on Twit­ter

The sky lets go a soli­tary young man, and the story of “Varekai” be­gins.

The fig­ure is none other than the myth­i­cal fig­ure Icarus, who has flown too close to the sun and is in a free-fall into the shad­ows of a for­est, at the sum­mit of a vol­cano, that’s in­hab­ited by fan­tas­ti­cal crea­tures.

“It’s been 15 years since this show went on the road. They put a for­est of 230 trees in the mid­dle of the Li­a­couras Cen­ter arena,” said “Cirque du Soleil: Varekai” tour­ing pub­li­cist Maxwell Ba- tista, adding that it’s been per­formed in 200 cities world­wide.

Rewrit­ing the story of Icarus, who falls into the sea and dies in the orig­i­nal tale, the crea­tures of the for­est res­cue him, help him heal from his in­juries, teach him to walk again and re­dis­cover life. “Here in ‘ Varekai,’ they give him a happy end­ing,” Batista said. “It’s a story about love, with a touch of com­edy.”

In sig­na­ture Cirque du Soleil fash­ion, the story is told in the in­ter­na­tional lan­guage of cir­cus arts, live mu­sic, chore­og­ra­phy and video art. El­e­ments of the per­for­mance in­clude Geor­gian dance with spark­ing light swords, danc­ing on crutches, hand bal­anc­ing on canes, trapeze fly­ing on a Rus­sian swing and some­thing called “slip­pery sur­face” — a se­quence of jump­ing, hand stand­ing and other tricks on a spe­cially de­signed slid­ing sur­face that sug­gests be­ing un­der wa­ter.

Fran­cois Gravel, an aerial acro­bat and gym­nast who por­trays Icarus, called the show en­ter­tain­ing and pow­er­ful and said that kids will en­joy it. “It’s pretty amaz­ing ... every show, you can’t be­lieve it’s hap­pen­ing to you,” said Gravel, an alum­nus of the Na­tional Cir­cus School ( Ècole Na­tionale de Cirque) in­Mon­treal, which is lo­cated near Cirque du Soleil’s head­quar­ters. He joined Cirque du Soleil in 2014 with the show “Quidam.”

“In ‘ Varekai’ I’m do­ing a net act,” he said of Icarus’ ac­ro­batic strug­gle in a net that holds him cap­tive.

Batista noted that the cast of 50 and crew of 100 rep­re­sent 16 dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties. The pro­duc­tion re­quires 21 trucks to take it on tour.

Ac­cord­ing to the Cirque du Soleil web­site, the word “Varekai” means “wher­ever” in the Ro­many lan­guage of the gyp­sies — the uni­ver­sal wan­der­ers. Di­rected by Do­minic Cham­pagne, the pro­duc­tion pays tribute to the no­madic soul.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

A scene from “Cirque Du Soleil: Varekai.”

PHOTO BY GABRIELUS JAUNISKIS VILNIUS

A scene from “Cirque Du Soleil: Varekai.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

A scene from “Cirque Du Soleil: Varekai.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

A scene from “Cirque Du Soleil: Varekai.”

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