Arts » Arts Stories & Interviews

Dreams Of Flight: Cirque Du Soleil's 'Varekai' Lands In SA


  • Martin Girard / Costumes: Eiko Ishioka © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

In the real world, nobody flies. But step inside Cirque du Soleil, and flight becomes a natural consequence of existence. It's the fall that brings surprise.

[Slideshow: 28 High-Flying Photos Of Cirque Du Soleil’s ‘Varekai’]

The famed Canadian troupe's Varekai does just that. In Cirque's take on the Icarus myth, Icarus plummets from the sky into Varekai (Romani for "wherever"), a whimsical forest inhabited by acrobatic creatures, dancers, musicians and aerial artists. There, Icarus adapts to this strange new world and ultimately finds love amidst a backdrop of unbelievable theatrics.

"[The story is] close to me and close to what we do in circus," artistic director Fabrice Lemire told the Current over the phone last week. "My show has 18 nationalities, I'm bringing these people from all over the world ... and they have to fit in the mold of what the circus family is."

With a crew of 85 traveling with the show at all times, Lemire likens the role of artistic director to "personality manager." Living together, traveling together and working together on a show as mentally and physically challenging as a Cirque du Soleil production takes its toll, and personality conflicts are bound to arise. "Artists are very self-involved, self-absorbed and in some ways they don't see past their nose," Lemire said. "[But] to deliver a good show I must have a team [that] is as happy as possible."

An integral component of Cirque is safety. Aerial acts are without a doubt the most difficult with "the most people involved, and the most cushion around." Regardless, there are always multiple plans set in place just in case. "We have all the scenarios," Lemire said. "You need to know where you start, you need to know where you pick up, you need to know how long you fly, you need to understand where the ground is when you come down," he said. A slight margin of error, or "gray zone" does exist, but the audience should never see it.

And they don't want to. For the past 30 years, this circus founded on human spectacle has thrilled audiences around the globe with its gravity-defying feats. Spawning countless imitators, the show goes on, ever evolving to remain relevant. The creative team is constantly seeking talent by scouring YouTube, holding auditions and simply asking around. It's about "embracing the diversity that's out there," Lemire said. "Not educate, but investigate."

Can Cirque du Soleil last forever? For Lemire, the answer is simple. "You walk on the street. You jump. You fall. You land. Gravity is there. So when you go to see these shows, it's magical. It's really something that we all dream to do."


$35-$165, Feb 4-8, 7:30pm Wed-Fri, 4:30pm & 7:30pm Sat, 1:30pm & 5pm Sun, Freeman Coliseum, 3201 E Houston, (210) 226-1177,

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