Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Review: Varekai

For her birthday this year, I gave msmemory an IOU to a show of her choice. She picked the latest piece from Cirque du Soleil, Varekai. We just got back.

Of the Cirque shows I've seen (three live, and several on TV), I think this is the best to date. The music isn't quite as perfect as La Nouba, and the acrobatics not necessarily as spectacular as some. But this show is the best-constructed of the lot, hanging together extremely well.

The music was fun, as always from Cirque: in this case, it provides ambience brilliantly, although there weren't any specific tunes that I took away. The story (insofar as Cirque ever has one) and acting were reasonably good, forming a strong emotional core for the show. (I gather that the story is loosely inspired by Icarus, and the "flight" motif works well for Cirque's acts.) The production design appeared to be inspired by the work of Maurice Sendak, full of exotic monsters, and the performers took those images and ran with them in their movement and flow; the sense that one was immersed in an alien forest full of strange animals was strong. And while the acrobatics didn't have me biting my knuckles the way they sometimes do, they were much more *beautiful* than usual. This show comes much closer to feeling like good ballet than Cirque usually does.

The only weak spot in the show, IMO, was the clowns. They had two pairs of clowns: one that I think of as the Zanni, who were clowning in-character with the rest of the show, and one pair who were extremely "meta" -- starting the show as ushers, wending their way through a magician's show and eventually winding up in, of all things, a powder-blue leisure suit. The former were fun (indeed, the show starts with a strange and funny meditation on noise that works very well), but the latter were just a bit too jarring, so out of place that they broke the atmosphere.

That was really a fairly minor weakness in a great show, though. The show is two hours long (plus an intermission in the middle), and was gripping pretty much throughout, drawing me deeply into its surreal milieu. Well worth seeing.

Since this was a birthday present, I decided to spring for Tapis Rouge tickets, the VIP version of the show. These are obscenely expensive, but they pull out all the stops. Starting with parking pretty much right at the door, they roll out the carpet in all ways. Tapis Rouge has its own tent, which starts with complimentary champagne and rather good hors d'ouvres, as well as comfortable lounges, its own store (including some really lovely Venetian carnival masks), and an army of waitstaff. During intermission, you're ushered back into the lounge for very good desserts. And of course, it comes with the best seats in the house (we were fourth row, center). The tickets are definitely priced in the special-occasion range, but it made for a luxurious evening.

If I have one real complaint about Cirque in general, it's that the producers clearly come from an alternate universe where everyone is five feet tall and weighs 103 pounds soaking wet. While the seats for the show are decently comfortable, they're quite cramped -- msmemory and I aren't huge, and were surrounded by people of similar size, and we were feeling a bit squished. And while the t-shirts in the store are gorgeous, the sizes are preposterous: even the XL shirts were much too small for us. Someone really needs to teach them that most of the audience isn't the same size as their performers, I'm afraid.

Still and all, this is recommended viewing if you get a chance. Cirque du Soleil is one of the most interesting and novel artforms to arise in recent years, and really is turning into the modern American version of ballet. We're gradually getting hooked on it, and looking forward to their next show...

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