ASB Showgrounds, Auckland

05/01/2007 - 11/02/2007

Production Details

Produced by Cirque du Soleil

Deep within a forest, at the summit of a volcano, exists an extraordinary world—a world where something else is possible. A world called Varekai.   From the sky falls a solitary young man, and the story of Varekai begins.  Parachuted into the shadows of a magical forest, a kaleidoscopic world populated by fantastical creatures, this young man sets off on an adventure both absurd and extraordinary.  On this day at the edge of time, in this place of all possibilities, begins an inspired incantation to life rediscovered.

The word varekai means “wherever” in the Romany language of the gypsies the universal wanderers. This production pays tribute to the nomadic soul, to the spirit and art of the circus tradition, and to the infinite passion of those whose quest takes them along the path that leads to Varekai.

Tuesday to Friday at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 4:00pm and 8:00pm
Sundays at 1:00pm and 5:00pm
No performances on Mondays

Under the blue-and-yellow Grand Chapiteau

Theatre , Circus , Cirque-aerial-theatre ,

Grace, beauty and spectacle

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 11th Jan 2007

For the uninitiated: Cirque Du Soleil is simply in a league of its own – if you can, go. For those who have seen Cirque’s previous NZ offerings, Algeria and Quidam, Varekai is still a stand out among them: an absolute must see.

Algeria was a clever, brilliant spectacle, Quidam, I hear, was more somber.

By comparison, Varekai is new, unadulterated fun, a vibrant celebration of flight, movement, music, images and story telling, delivered flawlessly with grace, beauty and spectacle.

Varekai is based on the legend of Icarus, played beautifully by Mark Halasi, who performs a breath-taking solo routine, in a net rigged high above stage. As Icarus falls from the sky, not to his death, as in Greek Mythology, but into a place called Varekai, writer | director Dominic Champagne unleashes on him a world of creatures, and cleverly fuses together many awe inspiring, would-be self contained acts, such as triple trapeze, Russian swings, aerial straps, Georgian dance, hand balancing on canes, plus good old fashion clowning and audience interaction, into a story of discovery and love.

Champagne’s feast of movement is accompanied by original music. Composer and musical director Violaine Corradi’s score is inspirational and varied, always enhancing the ever changing mood on stage. The music is vibrant (reminiscent of Johnny Clegg and Savuka) for the underwater world; then delicate, in absolute symmetry with the artists, for the triple trapeze act; then jazz-fusion for the outstanding Juggler Octavio Algeria; then a percussive ball to encase the strength and stamina of the dancers who close the first half: a stunning routine framed by an ensemble in mask, who further drive the rhythm with choreographed march.

Corradi’s score is performed live by an extremely tight and dynamic orchestra who, from time to time, accompany two outstanding singers (Isabelle Corradi and Craig Jennings). Thanks to the exquisite work of sound designer François Bergeron, music surrounds us, goes through us, just at the right level throughout the night.

But it is the visual spectacle that simply takes your breath away. The artists defy the laws of gravity; spin your mind and senses, and take the audience into a sublime world where anything appears achievable. Auckland was full of anticipation and felt the magic as soon as they walked into the Grand Chapiteau. That electric atmosphere continued right to the end, when we responded with an immediate standing ovation, and demanded a third company bow.

In an evening full of highlights, here’s just a few stand out moments from my perspective.

Clown duo act designer Cahal McCrystal peppers us with Cirque’s special charm as soon as we walk in, by sending in the clowns as we are being seated. With superb timing and ease, Steven Bishop and Joanna Holden, dressed as ushers, set about rearranging the unsuspecting public, separating the pretty couples, sweeping the VIP section with a metal detector, and polishing the occasional balding pate. Such is the attention to detail with a Cirque production though, all ushers, including ours – Gemma from Belfast – are welcoming and efficient.

Later in the evening, Bishop and Holden return with a most excellent crap magic show, enhanced by an audience volunteer, who enters into the spirit of Cirque’s magic effortlessly. However, Bishop’s best is saved for the second half, where his search for the lime light as he sings Ne me quitte pas (If You Go Away) by Jacques Brel, is committed and expertly timed, as is the work of the follow-spotting team.

A clown with a more poignant flavour, to further bring us into Varekai’s womb, is The Sky Watcher (Rodrigo Robleno), who turns our excesses to birdsong. During the routine, his machine, like an eclectic mince-maker, ‘captures’ the sound effects of city noise and fast cars, ‘processes’ the mayhem and churns it out as nature’s sweet music. Robleno returns later in the evening to show us its not how many people it takes to change a light bulb buy that what matters is how you do it.

Performer Dergin Tokmak (credited in the programme simply as Solo On Crutches) uses his metal in a way that makes them extensions of his superbly coordinated fluid moves.

A defining creative team supports Varekai’s stars.

Set designer Stephane Roy builds Varekai from giant bamboo shoots, some with resting points so her creatures can climb and investigate. The set continues to the top of the Grand Chapiteau, and at times, thanks to the brilliant work of lighting designer Nol Van Genuchten, there is an extended show on the ramps and roof, as he captures the shadows of exploration.

Costume designer Eiko Ishioka has made each garment a wearable concept, with vibrant colour and form. Her costumes are enhanced by the intricate work of make up designer Nathalie Gagne. The underwater world of cobalt blue, vivid orange and lime green; the serpent-like suits of the triple trapeze act, and the stimulating sequined garment of The Betrothed (played by the extraordinary supple Irina Naumenko), are particularly stunning.

Rigging designer Jaque Paquin makes all Varekai’s trapeze and airborne acts (in particular the two men in black, who swing wide, over and above us) look seamless and disarmingly easy.

Similarly, Varekai’s finale, featuring the Russian swings (two enormous contraptions that look like rat’s exercise wheels) and men flying left right and centre, flinging themselves at two large canvas drapes, doubling as AV screens, look like effortless leaps of faith.

Behind the spectacle, it’s plain to see teamwork underpins every move, on and off stage. The support players watch, guide and assist the airborne artists, with intense concentration. I think this grass roots bond for safety, goes some way to explain why Cirque’s overall productions are so good. Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Guy Labiberte, knows it. He talks about the cast and crew being like extended family, and that they, as managers, support and entrench that brotherhood. The Cirque way of building shows seems to start and end with this rock solid trust, and trust allows them to fly.

Add to that Cirque’s unique connection between music, movement, spectacle and technical elements, so that every detail gives connection and momentum to the same story, and you have the two reasons why a Cirque experience gives so much more than any other large scale show has on offer. Cirque even executes compulsory administration with style: A firefly gives us the obligatory sponsorships speil, cell phone blaa and emergency procedures. These wee details make all the difference: we were under that firefly’s spell even before it squealed Varekai, and we roared our appreciation.

Varekai’s ticket price reflects all of the above. If you can muster the funds, you will not regret experiencing Varekai’s stimulation to the senses.


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