Having never been to a Cirque show, the only thing I knew beforehand was that I was getting into something fantastical, and Varekai did not disappoint.
Despite the phrase being a tired cliche, you truly get whisked away to another world, forgetting that there are in fact people behind the luscious costume work and engaging but minimalistic set design.
There is some semblance of a narrative piecing together the music, impressive athleticism and elegant dances, involving Icarus falling majestically to the stage where the world of Varekai comes to life.
I’ve heard there is more information in the show’s program that helps piece together the plot, but it’s not too complex, and not really the point. I won’t pretend to understand the subtleties, but it’s essentially a tale of discovery with Icarus exploring the many faces of the world he has fallen into.
There’s an intense segment of fire and brimstone, a vibrant underwater journey and what I assume was a wedding for the finale, as Icarus falls in love whilst in the land of Varekai.
A jester-type creature, whose performance could only be described as Looney Tune-esque, wandered in and out of Icarus’ journey speaking the gibberish language that the characters used. While they weren’t saying actual words, it left the audience to interpret the story how they wanted, with only body language and vocal cues to bring you along with the characters.
At many points during the main performance you find yourself not knowing where to look. When I say the world came to life, I mean that you could find tens of performers each doing their own thing at one moment in time, yet all contributing to the larger visual aesthetic of the scene. Like watching a living, breathing painting.
Putting true life behind each of the different parts of the world of Varekai, and tying together the gymnastic feats, contemporary dance, and costumes that range from funky to spooky, was the music.
With everything I’d heard about Cirque shows leading up to Wednesday’s performance at the South Okanagan Events Centre, I hadn’t heard any mention of the fantastic live score that hides behind the scenes.
Some of the characters on the main stage join with their vocals, and the odd character will be playing an instrument, but for the most part the band is tucked away behind the ominous and simplistic steel poles that reach from the stage to the ceiling comprising the backdrop.
I was so impressed by the seamless meshing of musical styles that were worlds apart, from heavy hitting tribal drum lines to elegant classical numbers, that I would sometimes divert my gaze from the spectacle that was the main attraction to catch a peek at who was laying down a world-class guitar solo backstage.
The music combines with the performance so well it’s like watching a progressive rock music video, not just being made in front of you, but happening in front of you, as if it were real.
There were small breaks from the intensity of the main performance for a bit of clownery from a purposefully bad magician and his even worse assistant. There were a few laughs, but a lot of the humour fell flat or awkwardly, and it took me out of the world to see them join the rest of the cast at points towards the end, as they were wearing very human outfits and didn’t fit with the rest of the world.
Cirque du Soliel Varekai runs until May 17 at the SOEC.