Cirque du Soleil: Varekai

Varekai is currently playing at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia for seven performances only through Sunday, November 26. Buy tickets here.

I’m not gonna lie; we’re huge fans of Cirque du Soleil here at Roarbots HQ. The number of different shows we’ve seen runs into the double digits, and we had the privilege of touring the international headquarters in Montreal. (Check out our reviews of Paramour, Toruk: The First Flight, La Nouba, and Dralion + backstage tour!)

We even had the pleasure of seeing Varekai once before, several years ago when it was previously in Philadelphia. The show is back, and if you’ve never seen it before, don’t miss this chance. It will take its final curtain call in December, so this is literally your last chance to catch Varekai before it goes away.

In Romany, Varekai means “wherever.” This show pays tribute to that nomadic spirit but sets everything within a typical Cirque du Soleil context — one that combines the traditional with the progressive and the possible with the impossible.

The show first premiered in 2002 as a traveling big top show. In other words, it was performed beneath an enormous big top, just like old-time traveling circuses. Over the years, the show transformed into an arena show, but I doubt it lost any of its magic in the transition.

Few Cirque du Soleil shows follow a coherent narrative. Rather, they play on a single motif or theme the reverberates throughout the costumes, set design, music, and performances. However, the story of Varekai imagines what might have happened to Icarus after he fell from the sky . . . and landed deep within a forest, at the summit of a volcano, and into a fantastic world filled with indescribable wonders:

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.

It’s easy to become a little jaded after you’ve seen so many different Cirque du Soleil shows. I mean, how different could they possibly be, right? Turns out, quite a bit. There are some routines and acts that pop up in numerous shows, but every show has one or two numbers that make you think, “Wow, I’ve never seen that before!”

And that’s the magic of Cirque du Soleil.

In Varekai, those moments occur in both acts. The Sticks performance (by Tomoe Nishigaki) was remarkable in that I’ve never seen anybody have THAT MUCH balance and control over a twirling stick. She used nearly every part of her body in the act, and it was a standout highlight of the first act.

By far, the highlight of the second act is the Canes act featuring the female lead (Darina Mishina). At its heart, it’s a contortionist act, but her flexibility and ability to seemingly do magic with her body takes it into the stratosphere. The routine left jaws on the floor across the arena.

Another “I’ve-never-seen-that-before” routine was Solo on Crutches (Raphael Nepomuceno) act. Which is exactly what it sounds like: an acrobatic act performed on two crutches.

These are but a few of the highlights, though. The entire show is unbelievable, and it’s a shame Varekai is coming to an end.

The international cast of Varekai consists of 50 performers coming from 13 countries,
including 6 musicians and two singers. In addition, there are 50 crew members on tour – coaches, performance medicine therapists, wardrobe employees, stage managers, technical specialists and administrative personnel – who support the tour on a daily basis.

If I had to file a complaint against Varekai, it’s that it relies too heavily on clown acts and humor. The routines are funny, but they tend to run long. And they’re far too numerous.

Like I mentioned up top, Varekai is currently playing at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia through Sunday, November 26. Buy tickets here.

After that, it moves on to Biloxi, MS, and a few cities in Texas through the end of the year before it’s final (EVER) performance. Check here for a full schedule.

(Disclosure: We were guests of Cirque du Soleil for this performance. All opinions remain our own.)

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