NY Theater Review by Joshua Rose
The title of the show, Varekai, is the Romany (gypsy) word for “Wherever”. At times the creators seem to have taken the title a little too seriously. The acts do not always flow from one to another smoothly but sometimes hang like non-sequiturs lined up without reason. This is not surprising as, at it’s heart, cirque is a circus more than it is theatre. Though understandable, the disjointed presentation strains the audience’s ability to retain who characters are, how they relate and why they should care about them.
Romany influence goes beyond the title of the show, into the made up language, in the choreography and acrobatic acts, and the musical style. Other influences appear to be Asian, in the bamboo rainforest of a set, and South American in the brightly colored fantastical creatures that inhabit it. There is traditional Georgian and other Eastern European circus acrobatics, and choreography. They even let some French and English occasionally slip in amongst the made up language. Hearing an actual language is a little jarring when they do.
Varekai is at it’s most dramatically powerful in the performances that deal with the central Icarian storyline. Representing the struggle to come to grips with the new world and the new body you are left with after a traumatic accident or injury. The show gets started when Icarus, looking like a fallen angel, tumbles through the canopy down to the jungle floor, stunning its inhabitants and acting as a catalyst for competition, conflict and change. His aerial performance, as he falls with giant white wings strapped to his arms, is soft and graceful like he’s floating without any effort. After he is revived, as he goes through another routine wrapped in a net, the aerial convulsions and physical spasms of shock and realization followed by the lyrical spins and twirls of acceptance, is possibly the most emotionally stirring of the night.
Afterward, Icarus is left on the ground. His wings ripped off and stolen. His legs unable or unwilling to support his weight. His own world only a fading memory. In this condition he meets a mysterious golden creature and woo’s her with one of his feathers. She vanishes, but will emerge later, changed by the gift he has given her.
Meanwhile the characters, both whimsical and menacing alike; try to help Icarus in his recovery, each in their own ways; some only providing distraction from the pain. Others, like a good physical therapist, bullying and badgering Icarus to get back on his feet.
One character invents various contraptions in hopes of aiding Icarus’s broken body. One is a giant balloon, another is a giant pair of wheels with Icarus strapped in between them his toes barely scraping the floor. This devise was woefully underused as it had the potential for much more interesting acrobatic uses but appeared for just a short time.
Another character presents an emotionally devastating acrobatic solo about the limits or lack thereof that can come with a disability. Danced on crutches, the performer’s legs left limp throughout, the dancer swings, spins, leaps and otherwise moves with all the grace and power of any of the evenings other performers. He then uses these crutches to batter Icarus into finally standing on his own two feet.
I don’t have room to mention every act, but in the simple, but precise grace of every performance, you can see the hours and years of hard work and dedication that has gone into honing the particular skills and talents on display. Every act is a testament to what a human being can achieve, if they are only willing to expend the effort.
Varekai is accompanied by live music both instrumental and vocal, using everything from mouth harps and didgeridoos to bagpipes, violins and accordions. The musical styles were likewise taken from Wherever. A polka, some heavy metal, 50’s French lounge jazz, and opera are mixed with traditional Romany and Georgian rhythms and other influences.
The costumes, wigs, and makeup are all spectacular crayola colored creations that would fit comfortably in the worlds of Dr Seuss, Tim Burton, and Jim Henson. The lighting was stirring and well balanced between mood and visibility. At times, I found the ever moving abstract video projected on the bamboo set to be a distraction from the incredible acrobatics going on in front of them.
Barclays Center (620 Atlantic Avenue) in Brooklyn from July 30 through August 3
Tickets are available at www.cirquedusoleil.com/varekai, www.barclayscenter.com, www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000.