Toronto welcomed the final North American stop of Cirque du Soleil’s, ‘Varekai’ at the Air Canada Centre last night. Under the direction of Dominic Champagne, this perplexing production pays homage to circus-acts from juggling to trapeze. The Eurasian-themed staging mixed in with breaks of family friendly physical comedy, which fragmented the plot but kept the audience engaged and laughing before and after the 20-minute intermission. With daunting aerial performances and polished acrobatics most transitions built up anticipation, but fell short on delivering a cohesive story and proved to be ultimately underwhelming.
Audience applause ushered in the ethereal descent of white-winged, Icarus (of the Greek tragedy) onto a lush green stage. After mysterious forest residents pilfered his wings, he ascended above the stage and broke into a performance of splits and precarious suspension while tangled in an aerial net in motion. Before his solo, the march of misfit jesters in an array of bright colours opened the first act led by a character clothed in green foliage and a devilish grin.
The red-hot ferocity of the acrobatic group contrasted the delicate opening performances. The performers catapulted themselves into a combination of flips that elicited gasps from the crowd as they hurled their bodies onto inflated mats. World Champion Baton twirler, Arisa Tanaka showed off her skills with a dizzying and intricate performance as a forest nymph. To the beat of thundering bongos the flurried choreography of The Georgian Dance was liken to Irish Dance Line steps. The diverse live scoring of an orchestra set the mood in ‘Varekai’. They transitioned from bellowing guitar and accordion solos to gentle renaissance music.
A mass of sticks suspended over the busy stage that contained a curtain of bamboo shoots, masking the musicians from the audience. The cast used many interesting props from a large and glowing floating balloon to crutches, with a touch of contortion the hand balancing canes solo performance being the highlight of the night. Another standout piece was the dance trapeze. The performer hovered above the stage delivering intricately choreographed moves using the trapeze with dramatic flair.
Ending on a high note, the Russian Swings performance reawakened the sleepy audience who followed the broken story of Icarus between the cheesy comedy acts as he finds love. Interrupting the main plot were an intentionally floundering magician and a comical singer, which captured a few laughs from the audience. The magician’s assistant (think Rebel Wilson meets Mimi Bobeck) grabbed a helpless audience member who was then thrown into a whirlwind of sexual advances (butt grabs and faux makeout sessions). Some audience members chuckled but many cringed in awkward silence.
After earning cheap laughs from an act that would make Gob Bluth blush, ‘Varekai’ attempted to guide the audience back into the ethereal and romantic tale. Closing the night, gymnasts daringly catapulted themselves from the Russian Swings onto hanging hammocks and even from swing to swing. As the troupe bowed a few audience members stood in ovation, while others grappled to make sense of what they just watched.
Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai is on now at the Air Canada Centre until Sept. 6. Buy tickets here.