Tuesday, July 26, 2011

a trip to the cirque

The Varekai tent. Photos mine.

Cirque du Soleil isn't a typical circus, me thinks.

I first caught a glimpse over a decade ago on television; I don't really recall what program that was, it must have been an awards night like the Grammys or something. There was this segment in which some big-shot artists (I forgot who) performed on stage against a spectacular backdrop of Cirque du Solieil acrobats in action. What was remarkable about the said acrobats was that they were nothing like the usual circus acts - in unbelievable feats of upper body strength, they performed areal gymnastics, each holding on to a length of fabric suspended from the roof. No safety harnesses, no nets, no nothing. Wow. And they did it in slow, graceful motion too, like they were able to defy gravity.

I mused about how enthralling it would be to watch that live. Cirque du Soleil. Literally, "Circus of the Sun", I noted, and never forgot.

Every now and then I'd been able to catch other similar awards-night-background-acts on television and I concluded they must be known for their areal ballet. Ladies in dangling hula hoops, girls in hanging basket-like structures, pairs swinging on cables with long, flowing fabric trailing behind them. Utter wonder-spell. I saw posters of their shows all over hotels when I visited Vegas, but I never bothered to inquire about details since the pragmatist in me decided to save my dollars for shopping instead of spend them on a two-hour circus show.

I therefore count it as an enormous treat when my mother-in-law invited me to watch Cirque du Soliel's Varekai with her. Ticking one more item from my list of 101 Things To Do Before I Die.

The entrance tent interior. Photos mine.

Like I said earlier, it isn't a typical circus. There were no sideshow freaks, no animals, and no multicolored clowns (there were a few clown segments, but none of them wore the usual garb of brightly-colored overalls, fluffy wig et al). Most of the acts were the suspended ballet types that Cirque is known for. The costumes were wild and radiant, said to be designed to accentuate movement.

Varekai means "wherever" in Romani. With reference to the Greek myth The Flight of Icarus, it's basically an imagining of what happens to Icarus after his fall. Icarus (or Icare) supposedly lands in an enchanted forest and meets whimsical creatures who help him fly again. He falls in love with a beauty simply called The Guiding Light, and they eventually marry. Of course, since it's primarily a circus and not theater, viewer's can't expect a coherent, logical plot throughout; it's more like a string of acts put together in such a way that conveys some sort of story.

Since photography was not allowed inside the Grand Chapiteau (Big Top Tent), and since I like pretending to be an obedient, well-behaved citizen sometimes, I took no pictures of the show. But just to make this entry a bit more visual, I nicked the following photos from cirquedusoleil.com.

These were my favorite bits in Varekai:

The Flight of Icarus. Absolute Wow. A single artist dances a suspended ballet, using a mesh as an accessory. No safety harness, nets or anything to cushion a possible fall. Icarus contorted with impeccable grace and extreme muscular power.

This guy must be hyper-strong to be able to do something like that, despite his delicate-looking frame. I bet his abs are super tight too.

I also loved the way Icarus entered the stage for this scene. He floated in supine from the ceiling as if he were falling, but very slowly and fluidly like a feather, until he landed softly on his back. The diffused spotlight and the beautiful white wings he wore made him look angelic. No wonder some people (including the promoters, who are apparently unfamiliar with the Greek myth) thought the son of Daedalus the artisan was a fallen angel.

Moving on.

Icarian Games. Seemingly impossible sequences of somersaults and catches, feats of strength and perfect timing.

Areal Straps. A pair of bulgy-muscled men perform complicated choreography in the air. They made it look so easy.

The last act drew the most gasps and applause from the crowd. Russian Swings. Ho-oh-ly crap. Literally breathtaking, and insanely tense. Makes me wonder how many years these flyers took to train just to perfect something like that, and how many bones have been broken.

The chances of me seeing another Cirque du Soleil show are slim, so I'm really glad I caught them when they came to Manila for the first time. But then I wonder ... would they have a show the next time we visit Vegas? We'll see.