Icarus did not listen to his father. When his father, Daedalus, made him wings of feathers and wax to escape the island of Crete, he warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun. But Icarus did not heed his father’s words. He was overcome with excitement and so thrilled by the fact that he was flying, he disregarded the warning and his wings melted under the sun’s intense heat. His body fell from the sky and was swept away into the depths of the ocean. That is where the Greek mythological story ends and that is where the adventure of Varekai begins.
This Cirque du Soleil show takes the audience on an awe inspiring journey from where they envisioned Icarus (Mark Halasi) had landed when he plunged to his death. In this mysterious, magical and utterly stunning world of Varekai, Icarus experiences an awakening in which he must find his own way. Along the path he has the help of strange creatures that become his guides. He faces challenges, has a re–birth and meets a beautiful being. The show is making one of its first North American stops in Hamilton from January 29th to February 2nd at Copps Coliseum.
Sitting in the packed Bell Centre in Montreal, I like the rest of the audience, was completely focused on the extraordinary show that was being unveiled. It was only the third performance of Varekai in an arena and from a spectator’s point of view, they hit it out of the park.
Since debuting in Montreal in 2002 under the circus’s iconic big top tent, Varekai has had over 8 million viewers. After visiting more than 72 cities, Cirque du Soleil felt it was time to move it on up to a bigger stage. They kicked off their arena tour in Montreal and will reach Hamilton on January 29th. To help make this a smooth transition, Artistic Director Fabrice Lemire was brought on board. Lemire is a Franco–American ballet trained dancer who perfected his art form over the last 25 years. He was discovered by Cirque in 2005 when he was working on a Celine Dion show in Las Vegas (not her Cirque du Soleil show) as a coach but did not get involved with the circus until 2008. It was then that he was asked to work on Zaia which was a permanent Cirque show in Macau, China. Following that, he became Artistic Director on Quidam, Cirque’s somewhat dark yet whimsical show that was performed in Toronto in 2011 which I also had the great pleasure of seeing.
Lemire has brought his invaluable experience and passion for his craft to Varekai. Of the many hats he wears, inspiring his 50 performers, including the musicians, to give their all, is one that is extremely important to him. “…So the visibility in the arena is obviously different than what we had in the big top where we have such proximity with the public. Here, what I am asking the performers is how can you project as much so the people in the back of this enormous stadium can see you and have the same experience as the people sitting in the first 10 rows. So to access this, they have to push a little further.” Lemire says of the transition, “It’s very challenging. It’s a brand new show. We put it together in a very limited time to turn around so it’s a brand new stage.” Regardless of how challenging it may be, Lemire and his crew have done an excellent job of hiding any difficulties from the audience. The set is made up of what is referred to as “trees” but in actuality looks like long sticks of bamboo. There is a 30 metre long staircase that appears to be made out of the “trees” that spirals up into the catwalk high above the stage. This gives it the visual effect at times of being in a jungle.
The stage works as an appropriate backdrop for a show filled with gravity–defying acts atop the canopy. In “Aerial Straps” two male performers (Oleksii Kozakov and Oleksandr Romashyn), looking more like Samoan warriors in their black body–suit type costumes, fly high above the stage only attached by their wrist straps. Their act is mesmerizing as their bodies look like mirror images of one–another. They move completely in–sync for much of their routine. Another aerial act is performed as a woman shimmering in white and gold (Katja Kortstrom) dazzles the crowd as she swings back and forth holding onto a hoop suspended high in the air.
Although their act is not as daring as the rest of the Varekai cast, the clowns and comedic relief actors are among the most beloved aspects of the show. An audience favourite is the not–so–magical Magician (Steven Bishop) and his ditzy and loveable blonde assistant (Gabriella Argento). Their often bumbling attempts at magic tricks and use of audience members in their shenanigans, provides a lot of fun and laughter for the children and adults alike. They provide a much needed breather from the edge–of–your–seat and high–intensity acts. Artistic Director, Fabrice Lemire, says that there can be no Cirque du Soleil without the clowns! “These characters are very important. These characters also are the Cirque in some ways. They have to exist… you go to a Cirque show when you are a child; you want to see a clown there. Here the clown is not the clown with the red nose but it’s still a clown.”
Like a typical Cirque du Soleil show, Varekai delivers a spectacular performance filled with beautiful, vibrant costumes, entertaining clown acts and mind–blowing dangerous performances. But make no mistake, Varekai is anything but typical. V
Pick up next week’s View to read more on the daring acts and exclusive interviews with some of the performers!
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
Jan. 29 – Feb. 2
@ Copps Coliseum,
101 York Blvd.