Cirque du Soleil: Varekai
In 1982 a group of young Canadian street entertainers decided to start a new kind of circus. Two years later Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun) did its first show. And the rest is history. Today the wildly successful company is known for its unique blend of street entertainment and circus art, which result in very memorable shows. Magnificent costumes, heart-stopping acrobatics and hauntingly beautiful music are some of the signature elements of Cirque du Soleil. I got to see “Varekai”, which in Romany means “wherever”.
The journey started in the evening at the Hamburg Central train station, where I met with a friend in front of the travel service. Downstairs to the subway platform, a few minutes of waiting and we were on the train. Ten minutes later we got out and followed everyone outside, where we immediately saw a bus with “Cirque du Soleil” sign on the front. We jumped in along with more people chattering about the show, and the excitement could be felt more and more the closer we got to the White Chapiteau – the Big top. The area really is a bit out of the city, although easy to reach by with the subway.
Off the bus, we saw lots of peaked white tents disappearing after each other, all of them with the Cirque du Soleil logo on it: the smiling sun with the title of the company emblazoned next to it. Employees were all wearing jackets or shirts with the logo as well, including the girl who checked our tickets and explained where to go. The first thing I heard when we walked inside were the opening notes from the soundtrack to “Alegria”, one of the other shows the Cirque stages.
We walked around the entrance tent and looked at the stuff on sale – T-shirts with imprints from different shows, funny top hats and exquisite hand-made masks for 139 Euros. The smell of popcorn drifting from the food stands made us remember our appetites, so we got that and a big pretzel to share.
The tickets said admission was from 7 PM, but when we got to our section, door 7, it was still closed. So it probably meant inside the Cirque area in general. However, time flew quickly, and at 20 minutes to 8 the doors opened. Though they weren’t really doors, they were flaps. Up another flight of steps and we’re in, under the Big top.
Both of us had thought the inside of the main tent would be enormous, gigantic, and were surprised to see it seemed smaller. However, later it became clear that it made sense, because otherwise you can’t see the performers well enough, and that takes away the whole experience.
The seats were perfect. We could see the stage just fine, and each row was raised above the other. After settling down, it was obvious that the whole structure was built extremely sensibly, and that all the props for the show, all the stage equipment had been very carefully arranged to fit the scenario of this particular entertainment and to allow the audience a good view.
Shortly before 8 the lights dimmed and everyone got very excited, especially when some thumping music started and people in the signature-style costumes came out. But it was a sort of opening warm-up skit which got us laughing. Snap-snap, applause, lull, everyone asking each other if that was already the beginning of the show or not...and then the lights went out.
Tiny green bulbs flickered on in the ceiling and a mechanical voice announced to drumroll (after saying the safety stuff): “Ladies and gentlemen, mesdames et monsieur, meine Damen und Herren: Varekai. Varekai. Varekai!”
And I think we just went right into the world that unfolded over the next two and a half hours.
You see and feel immediately why the show is such a tremendous success and why it’s considered to be what it is. It’s all there: the timing, the music, the movements and effects which are just how they should be, and you don’t need any words to understand the storyline.
“Varekai” is based on the greek myth about Icarus and tells what happened to him after he fell. In this version he falls to the bottom of a volcano in a jungle, where he encounters all sorts of amazing creatures, but above all, he must recover his faith in himself and learn to fly again.
Bright, amazing costumes, magical jungle creatures, one dance sequence after the next. And then Icarus drops from the sky with his wings spread. He lay there for a while and they wrapped him in a net. But he flew up anyway, taking the net with him. He twirled and twisted and walked on air and balanced and I swear he flew.
Was it real? Are they human? I don’t know. Dancing with fire, swinging through the air on a rope and doing a dance in the air in perfect unison, ending in breathtaking somersaults, spinning so fast I couldn’t breathe out until they were done!
So the creatures of the jungle presented themselves. There were three amazing little boys, who twirled some kind of elastic rope in the air very fast, let it go up, did some gasp-inducing acrobatics and jumped up again to catch the rope as it shot back down to them.
Icarus meets the sort of princess of this jungle world, and first she’s wary of him, but then they lean towards each other. Her father, I guess, is pretty aggressive about this, and does some really impressive walking on sticks that he holds in his hands. He hides the princess away. All the same, Icarus and the princess find each other, and the crowning moment comes in the end: it all culminates in the most fantastic sequence I’ve ever seen. Or rather, I’ve never seen anything like it!
Two round constructions standing side by side, made out of bars with openings at the sides, and from the middle hangs a big swing. Lots of brightly-dressed acrobats shoot out on the stage to very fast music, and switching on the swings, they swing on them and jump from one to the other, doing somersaults, catching each other with their hands... it was indescribably breathtaking. I can’t imagine the adrenaline that must be pumping at a moment like that!
The music was magnificent. Cirque du Soleil really do have their own style, and at the same time they do a good job of blending international influences, so that everyone can find something they appreciate. It’s a true celebration of art and enjoyment.
There was thunderous applause and whistling throughout the show after every act. In the end people stood up and wouldn’t stop clapping for a while.
It’s like there is this whole other world. And once you discover it, you don’t forget it.
http://www.cirquedusoleil.com is the official website of Cirque du Soleil.