Friday, August 8, 2014

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Cirque du Soleil's Varekai

  • Russian Swings. Photo: Rick Diamond. Costume credit: Eiko Ishioka
By Lauren Yarger
Cirque du Soleil 's latest tour is Varekai, which recently stopped at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn (where I saw the show on which this review is based.). 

After 11 years of touring the world under the blue and yellow Big Top, Varekai began a new adventure this past December touring the world in arenas worldwide and in some markets never visited before.

What's It All About?
Well, as is the case with so many of Cirque's shows, it is hard to know. I couldn't catch the thread of the story, or understand the lyrics. Here's what the show says it is about:

Deep within a forest, at the summit of a volcano, exists an extraordinary world¾a world where something else is possible.  A world called Varekai. The sky lets go a solitary young man, and the story of Varekai begins.  Parachuted into the shadows of a magical forest, a kaleidoscopic world imbued with fantastical creatures, a young man takes flight in an adventure both absurd and extraordinary.  On this day at the edge of time, in this place of pure and undiluted possibility, begins an inspired incantation to a life rediscovered and to a newly found wonder in the mysteries of the world and the mind.

The word Varekai (pronounced ver·ay·’kie) means “wherever” in the Romany language of the gypsies¾the universal wanderers.  Directed by Dominic Champagne, this production pays tribute to the nomadic soul, to the spirit and art of the circus tradition, and to those who quest with infinite passion along the path that leads to Varekai.

What Are the Highlights?
It's Cirque du Soleil, so you are sure to be entertained, even if you aren't following the plot. Colorful costuming (designed by Eiko Ishioka), driving music (composed and musical directed by Violaine Corradi) and choreography by Michael Montanaro and Bill Shannon (with acrobatic performances designed by André Simard) create a vibrant, mystical world where winged men and odd reptilian creatures play and do everything from fly, juggle, balance, and contort. 

There also are a pair of clowns, one male and one female (the act is created by
Cahal McCrystal), who entertain. I am not a huge fan of the clowns, who often target members of the audience for humor, but one number performed to "Ne Me Quitte Pas" was particularly well done and so amusing that I found myself laughing out loud at clowns at the circus (believe me, this is not a normal thing).

The finale, "Russian Swing" (pictured above) is the kind of breath-taking, flying and leaping act that has Cirque audiences on the edge of their seats, a gasp away from amazement.

What Are the Lowlights?
On a scale of 1-10 in the world of Cirque du Soleil Shows, with O in Vegas being a 10 (well, actually more like a 12) and Banana Shpeel being a 1 (and that might be generous), this one ranks in at about a 5.5. It's interesting and entertaining, but doesn't include the amazing acts we've come to expect. And there's just no easy way to figure out what is supposed to be going on. 

I thought a white winged man who fell to earth might be Adam. Then I thought maybe it was Adam's fall from grace, because a little man dressed in black with a light bulb on his head seemed to be devil-like. Press materials later informed me, however, that the man with the wings was Icarus --  "Innocent and vulnerable, he finds himself wounded in an unknown world. His desire to live and overcome his fears will drive him to new heights and an eventual rebrirth." Really, now....

  • Title : The Betrothed
  • Picture credit : Eric Piché
  • Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka
The amphibian-like creature to whom I referred in my notes as "webbed lady," apparently is "The Betrothed" -- " An exotic creature who enraptures Icarus with her sensual beauty. She will be his guiding light and he, in turn, will be the catalyst for her metamorphosis." OK, webbed and sensual beauty don't usually occupy the same sentence in my world....

And the light bulb guy wasn't the devil, but The Guide --  "Weathered by the sun of many centuries, he’s like a kindly, fragile great-grandfather—a wise old man whose mission is to inspire and bring about change."  Totally missed that.

But it's Cirque. You don't need to get it. Just sit back and enjoy.

More information:

Cirque du Soleil
From a group of 20 street performers at its beginnings in 1984, Cirque du Soleil is a major Québec-based organization providing high-quality artistic entertainment. The company has 5,000 employees, including more than 1,300 artists from more than 50 different countries.

Cirque du Soleil has brought wonder and delight to more than 100 million spectators in more than 300 cities in over forty countries on six continents. For more information about Cirque du Soleil, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com.

Visit http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/varekai/default.aspx to find information about the tour.
Upcoming Stops:
The Walstein Center, Cleveland
Erie, PA Insurance Arena
Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, NJ
Prudential Center, Newark, NJ

Christians might also like to know:
No content notes.
  • Title : Flight of Icarus (The)
  • Picture credit : Benoit Camirand
  • Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

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All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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