The show has a loose plot, based upon the myth of Icarus, son of Daedalus, who in escaping the Island of Crete, flew “too near the sun,” so that his wings made of wax and feathers melted. In this show, instead of crashing into the sea and dying, Icarus survives a hard landing on an island even stranger than those visited by Odysseus. Derived from a Romany word meaning “Wherever,” Varekai is inhabited by part-human Chimeras, some part insect, some part reptile, part sea creature, or even plant. Icarus is taken up by the friendly natives and given into the care of the Skywatcher, a Pan-like character who is, like Daedalus, an inventor. (In an opening sequence, he demonstrates a “steampunk” device that converts unpleasant noises into birdsong.) The other mostly human character is called The Guide, an irascible being who lives underground, but who introduces Icarus to “Promise”, a beautiful lizard-woman he falls in love with.
The Skywatcher tries to assist Icarus, who can’t walk due to injuries, by constructing a balloon. This goes against the desires of the gods, who greet its appearance with darkness, thunder, and lightning. Two spirits of the air descend and abduct Promise. Later, after Icarus has various other adventures and encounters, as portrayed in the various aerial, acrobatic, and juggling acts, Promise is returned, transfigured into a veritable goddess, and her betrothal to Icarus is celebrated.
Like other Cirque productions, “Varekai” is accompanied by a complete live score, much of which also has vocal accompaniment in their trademark “no-language.” Act merges into act through lighting changes and dance interludes, which make it a complete and thoroughly designed single work of art. Some of the acts, as frequently happens with Cirque, seem to push the envelope of what is humanly possible, especially the finale “Russian Swing” act, which seems to defy physics.
Having now seen a number of Cirque productions, I have come to understand the importance of the clown acts. Each show typically has two or three characters that are only clowns, frequently interact with the audience, and have their own self-contained routines. Besides giving the audience a break from the sustained action, they allow the other performers, who mostly act in several routines, time for the complete costume changes they require. Although the two clowns for this show were quite funny in themselves, unlike everyone else in the show, their costumes and routines were “contemporary,” which I found disharmonious with the rest of the show. For example, they did a “clumsy magician” act of the type made notorious by Dom DeLuise as "Dominick the Great", and one where the male clown, singing the French version of “If You Go Away” tries vainly to keep illuminated by a wandering spotlight. I would have liked the clown bits better if they had been more integrated with the overall production and didn’t “break the frame” quite as much.
“Varekai” was a gorgeous and thrilling visual experience, which we were very glad to have been able to see. We will continue to be interested in Cirque de Soleil whenever we can see them.
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