(Cirque du Soleil)


Written and directed by Dominic Champagne

Under the blue and yellow big top at 1 Airport Drive, Hamilton, off the airport road

Professional production

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 into danger and mystery.

There are currently six different Cirque du Soleil shows touring the world, and about another six playing permanently in a number of cities. Brisbane has seen two or three of these already, but the current production, Varekai, has a different theme and emphasis from all the others, presumably so that nobody can justify staying away with the excuse that they’ve seen it all before.

In a way, of course, we have seen it all before, but we are still amazed by the sheer physical ability of the performers, the way they use their bodies to perform convolutions that seem impossible. We can never stop gasping in wonder at their physical prowess, and every time the acts are different, even though each is based on a familiar technique.

In that sense, the performers of Cirque are probably no better than the best of the Chinese and Russian acrobats, but what sets this company apart is the professionalism of the presentation, the spectacular staging and costumes, and the imaginative storytelling, which weaves the acts into a narrative with recurring motifs which give the show a shape, rather than it just being a series of discontinuous acts.

The story behind Varekai is that of a solitary winged creature (Mark Halasi) who falls twisting from to the sky into a magical landscape, which has been set in the beginning in a rather slow 10 minutes of “drawling and stretching and fainting in coils”, as the Mock Turtle would put it. Fantastic costumes, yes, and strange other-wordly creatures at the bottom of a fairy forest that somehow suggested the Beatles’ underwater garden as well, but nothing very exciting in the way of physical agility and, for my taste and the taste of the children around me, rather too busy to be able to hold our full focused attention. Even the clown didn’t excite their laughter, because for the kids he was too sophisticated to be funny, and for adults a little lacking in meaning.

But once the dazzling winged creature fell from the heavens, the mood changed, and the gripping narrative took over. The angel-like creature (or is he Icarus?) was stripped of his wings and rolled up in a net, pulled up into the flies as if being rejected by the world he had descended into. Then, like the magic creature he was, he unrolled himself from the net and used it to perform a series of exquisite acrobatic sequences, bringing forth from the audiences those gasps of admiration that every good circus performer should be able to achieve.

Eventually he fell to earth again, and lay there wingless, his arms outstretched, while the ugly black giant-like creature mocked him, and the show went on, with its usual exquisitely-costumed death-defying circus tricks, and eventually he found True Lerv with another shimmering acrobat whose silver-striped costume made her seem like a flickering sea creature, and whose agility was even twistier than that of a fish, and it all ended up happy ever after, as fairy tales should.

And in between there were costumes and music and physical tricks that had everyone calling for more, and it was a truly beautiful evening. Hand-balancing on canes, the triple trapeze, Russian swings, foot juggling and even a solo acrobat act performed on crutches you name it, it’s here.

“Varekai” means “wherever” in the Romany language, and this show is about the perils encountered by the nomadic soul, as well as the ultimate rewards. It’s this thematic structure, as well as the costumes, of course, that raises Cirque du Soleil into a realm far beyond that of ordinary circuses, and has made therm deservedly popular.

So even if you don’t like circus, this one is worth seeing, for the way it can lift the spirit and enchant the senses; because it’s about human yearnings and aspirations; and you will probably believe, if only for a couple of hours, that magic can happen and that dreams can come true.

Costume designer Eiko Ishioka

Playing until 16 December 2006: Tuesdays to Thursdays at 8pm; Fridays and Saturday at 4pm and 8pm; and Sundays at 1pm and 5pm. Please note that the shows on Saturday 16 December will be at 1pm and 5pm. Performance schedule changes some weeks.

Duration : 2 hours 30 minutes, with a 25 minute interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Thu 9th November 2006)