Review: Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Varekai’ astounds at PPL Center
If you’ve never traveled to Las Vegas and have not seen a Cirque du Soleil performance there, the amazing performance organization that has been at the forefront of the new circus movement is traveling to you.
Right here in the Lehigh Valley, through Nov. 12, at PPL Center, Allentown, Cirque du Soleil is back with “Varekai,” an extraordinary, breathtaking, and awe-inspiring performance. “Varekai” is nothing short of acrobatic ballet.
From beginning to end of the approximate two-hour and 15-minute show, including intermission, you will marvel at the skills of the performers and remark over and over to yourself, a friend or family: “How do they do that?”
There’s a loose story line to “Varekai,” written and directed by Dominic Champagne, having to do with an Icarus figure who descends to the exotic world of Varekai. On stage, bathed in shimmering light, with a steam punk influenced backdrop of more than 300 “trees” and a byzantine staircase and catwalk, is recreated a forest-like setting, complete with the sound of wind, waterfall and birds.
Before some 50 performances whose home nations include Canada, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and the United States, in bizarrely-beautiful multi-colored costumes, designed by Eiko Ishioka, amble onto the stage, two clowns, disguised as red-coated ushers entertain the crowd seated stage-side. The male and female duo reappear throughout the show, in different costumes, creating mirthful mayhem wherever they go and whatever they do.
By the way, the size and format of the PPL Center is such that the audience feels close to the performance. There really isn’t a bad seat in the house. The opening night, Nov. 9, performance was seen for this review.
In the set design by Stephane Roy, performers seemingly appear out of nowhere, dropping from “the lookout” in the middle of the catwalk, or popping up from one of five stage trapdoors, on top of two turntables or on a platform that elevates. A six-piece band, and a male and female singer, plus recorded music, create sounds and songs, in the world music score by Violaine Corraldi, that mirrors the action on stage.
Standout characters, in addition to Icare (Icarus), include La Promise (The Betrothed), and La Vigie (The Skywatcher), the latter a trickster-type who creates a humorous figure.
It’s the individual set pieces that boggle the mind.
“Synchronized Tumbling” is a group of five acrobats from Japan who live up to their name: bounding, bouncing and rolling with seeming abandon, but with a precision that is no happenstance.
Act two opens with the astounding “Slippery Surface” as seven performers from Russian, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Belgium in fanciful candy-colored costumes balance and slide with an expertise that is thrilling.
“Duo Straps” bring a duo from the Ukraine to fly with blistering speed high above the stage, with near-misses, then intertwined, then one hanging from the other. This all happens seamlessly.
“Varekai” concludes with the astounding “Russian Swings,” a contraption that defies description. You really have to see this to believe it. Performers fly through the air as if shot from a cannon, from one swing to the other, landing on a swing, and bouncing off the big “V” canvas that flanks the stage.
The performers of Cirque du Soleil have a delicate strength that is mesmerizing. “Varekai” is a show that can and should be enjoyed by the whole family. Kudos to the PPL Center for bringing this absolutely incredible show to Allentown and the Lehigh Valley. Don’t miss it.
Cirque du Soleil’s “Varekai” performances include 4, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11, and 1:30, 5 p.m. Nov. 12, PPL Center, Allentown. Tickets: PPL Center Box Office; PPLCenter.com; 610-347-TIXX