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Review: Cirque du Soleil's “Varekai”

July 25, 2014

There’s amazing acrobatic stuff going on in “Varekai,” the 2002 Cirque du Soleil show visiting Bankers Life Fieldhouse (through July 27) and, for some, that will be enough. There are also beautiful, odd, lyrical moments unlike anything you’ve ever seen and, for some, that, too, will be enough.

“Varekai” also features a cut-and-paste structure where some of the acts seem to be connected to the loose theme and others don’t. Its clowns occasionally strike the funnybone but too often miss the mark (particularly the shrill Skywatcher and the Guy with the Light Bulb in his Head). And, as with some other Cirque shows, the opening promises more of a fusion of visual and physical wonders than the rest delivers. For some, that will keep it from being wholly satisfying.

It starts off strong, using music, exotic costuming and intriguing set design to draw us into a strange world as characters of all sorts populate the playing space. Like folks you might find in one of the odder Q Artistry or NoExit Performance works—only with a mega-budget—they seem to exist in their own bizarre world that seems to have its own languages and its own musical vocabulary (there's a live band and a pair of strong vocalists).

Then Icarus falls out of the sky.

Well, falls isn’t the word. His descent involves a net that seems designed to increase danger rather than provide safety. There’s grace and sadness in his fall—and his attempts to rise again—and “Varekai” is soon soaring with amazing physical feats and visual splendor.

And then Mooky and Claudio, a clown act, enters. And the beauty is drained out of the proceedings without being replaced with much. (To be fair, Claudio does provide fun later with a chasing-the-spotlight bit that offers two climactic payoffs.)

The plot is largely abandoned. But we do get The Limping Angel, performing amazing feats on crutches, a jaunty Georgian Dance, a juggler (unintentionally) having a slightly off night, and acrobats hurtling through the air off gliding swings.

This seemingly Cirque-grown species of superhumans contort while flying, connect while swinging, tumble while balancing, hurl one another with their feet, and otherwise defy gravity and create the impression of bonelessness.

Your response to all of this may depend on how many other Cirque shows you've seen. As a vet of about a half dozen of them, I'd say "Varekai" lands somewhere in the middle.


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