published Monday, December 18, 2017
Fort Worth — The cosmic union of Earth (a petite yellow volcanic sprite) and the sky (a pale white feathered Icarus), the power of love and humor to vanquish demonic forces, how cooperation is the crux of all human achievement.
These are the themes of Varekai, a Cirque du Soleil that run at the Fort Worth Convention Center last week, and comes to Frisco’s Dr. Pepper Arena this week. Cirque shows range from sprawling under-the-Big Top productions, to concentrated permanent installations in Las Vegas and other locations, to roadshows of varying caliber.
In Varekai, Icarus falls to Earth using a long linear net in the same way other acrobats use aerialstraps, but with more flexibility, allowing a graceful merger with the music. Dangerous ghouls swarm the striving mythological figure, his legs crippled from the descent, and a black-robed ashen demon steals the wings. He catches the eye of a delicate yellow sprite who emerges from a volcanic vent, but the demon and its dual-faced minions abduct her. Fate finds a way and lovers unite; all while bodies fly through the air.
Varekai’s phantasmagorical costumes conjure alien creatures. A backdrop of wide silver streamers evokes a birch forest from which performers mysteriously emerge. Dancer-acrobats execute intricate choreography on a near 360-degree stage. Stately figures in wizard-royalty dress sing/yodel in continental languages. Strange humanoid creatures spout extensive gibberish. A small band cranks out lively Mid East-Mediterranean tunes.
Varekai’s core acts give strong performances; others seem like they’re on their first road show. A female aerialist/contortionist in gold captures Old World beauty. Bouncing and tumbling aerialists launch high and fling themselves against gigantic white sails, then slide down and begin again. In a twist on typical banquine, they launch, somersault and land to and from huge swings instead of human towers, which seems impossible, but evidently is not.
A strangely taciturn male duo on aerial straps sometimes move as one two-headed creature, then break and orbit in breathtaking symmetry, occasionally zooming right over the audience heads. The female contortionists lacked personality and skipped through their marks. The expert baton twirller/juggler was good, but never connected with the audience. It all concludes in a complicated spectacle with performers launching from all sides, above and below.
Yet it’s a strangely disjointed production. The seating soundtrack of blizzard winds is more oppressive than mysterious. The intermission soundtrack of ocean waves made no sense for a production set in a forest in a volcano (go figure). The clown duo was dressed like contemporary salespeople in red jackets. Their stereotypical exaggerated male and female sexuality would get HR attention in a second in office as they put the make on audience volunteers, but was wildly funny nonetheless. They kept the energy of the show going through the flagging first half.