Varekai: Cirque splendor

Oct. 13, 2004, midnight | By Pria Anand | 19 years, 6 months ago

Aerial gymnasts contorting fifty feet above the stage on a set composed of nothing more substantial than ropes and tenuous golden poles. A harlequin dancer spinning across the floor in a languid ballet performed on, of all things, crutches. Spangled, spiky-headed acrobats vaulting through the air from one swinging plank to another. As incongruous as they seem, all fit perfectly under one blue-and-yellow big top tent in Varekai, the latest offering from French-Canadian circus company Cirque du Soleil.

Peripherally, Varekai tells the story of Icarus (Anton Chelnokov), an angelic creature who descends into a fantastical forest where birds breathe fire and everyone can fly. In reality, however, the show is focused entirely on the intricate and frequently awe-inspiring choreography of an international cast of over 50 highly trained athletes and artists in vibrant spandex costumes that can only be described as "interpretive."

Part of the show's appeal is in its cross-cultural nature. One of the most inventive acts is a frenzied, rhythmic dance based on the military tradition of the Republic of Georgia. Performers whirl across the floor, jumping effortlessly from knees to feet and back again as Icarus looks on in wonder.

While Varekai is certainly not lacking in stunts that bring the audience to its feet, the show also doesn't shy away from gently poking fun at its own abstract nature. The acts are announced by a firefly that sounds as if it spent the past few hours sucking on helium balloons.

Like any circus, Varekai has an element of weird that goes along with its whimsy. Although we're all rooting for Icarus and his love interest, La Promise (Irina Naumenko), to evade the other creatures of the forest long enough to get together, La Promise's Gumby-like act, balancing precariously on her hands as she twists her body into unnatural forms, is a little unnerving to say the least.

However, La Promise and her cohorts are accompanied by live singing that is nothing short of inspired. The music is a bizarre blend of Middle Eastern and European influences rendered in a language that is entirely invented yet vaguely recognizable, and the vocalists wander unobtrusively among the performers throughout the show.

Ultimately, Varekai has all the magic and wonder of the circus without the unicycles or the lion tamer (or any animals at all, for that matter). Cirque is in town, bringing with it a level of beauty and grace that goes above and beyond the three rings of a typical peanuts-and-sawdust spectacle.

Varekai will be performing at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium until Oct. 24.

Pria Anand. Pria is a senior. She loves Silver Chips, movies and, most likely, you. More »

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