The circus has come to town

The circus has come to D.C., and it’s performing wherever. To be more specific, Cirque Du Soleil has set up its Grand Chapiteau tent on the grounds of RFK Stadium, performing the show “Varekai,” which means “wherever” in the Romany language of the gypsies, from which the show finds its origin.

Started by a band of street acrobats in Quebec City, Canada, the “Circus of the Sun” has expanded over the course of 20 years to include five internationally touring shows and four permanent shows in Las Vegas and Orlando. The North American tour, “Varekai,” stops in only three lucky cities, D.C. included.

Like all Cirque shows, in addition to acrobatic feats and contortionism, “Varekai” has a loosely based plot. This show stars Icarus, who has landed in the magical world of Varekai and is discovered by The Guide and The Skywatcher. Icarus is wedded to The Betrothed, a beautiful contortionist, to great fanfare at the end of the performance. The plot is hard to understand initially, and is only really able to be figured out through the program. It is lost soon after the beginning of the circus and picked up again at the end, but who cares? It is the acrobatics that draw people to Cirque, not the plot of the performance.

Cirque brings the audience exactly what it has become famous for. The show begins with the arrival of Icarus, who is trapped in a net high above the stage. In an attempt to free himself, he performs dangerous and beautiful acrobatics high above the audience. Three young performers juggle with “water meteors,” or ropes with a sphere at either end. Then in come the clowns, who are surprisingly dressed to be the most humanlike of all the performers. Unlike most clown acts in traditional circuses, this duo was actually funny. As a magician and assistant whose tricks have all gone awry, the clowns were able to keep the audience laughing between acts.

The show included other elements of traditional circuses, like trapeze artists and juggling. What makes Cirque stand out, however, is acrobatics unlike that of any other performing group in the world. Cirque choreographers are fond of swinging performers through the air on ropes to perform tricks that require true strength and coordination. It’s no wonder that recruitment for performers takes place at gymnastic and diving matches. “Varekai” features many swinging acts, as well as acrobatics performed on crutches and on a special slippery surface on the stage. A seemingly spineless contortionist balanced on her hands on thin metal poles, and dancers displayed their strength in the unique “Georgian Dance.” The finale was naturally the most difficult and dangerous stunt of the night. Many performers on the stage launched each other from giant swings to perform flips and twists high in the air.

Costuming, set and music are also standout elements of Cirque. The costumes of “Varekai” were otherworldly creations that transformed performers into mysterious aliens. All costuming and makeup was colorful, beautiful and bizarre. Set design, emulating a mysterious forest, features many trapdoors and moving platforms. The entire circus was set to a live score with influences in world music, and vocals were performed by costumed characters The Muse and The Patriarch.

Although ticket price is a bit steep, Cirque Du Soleil is worth it for those who are willing to splurge on this magical evening.

Cirque Du Soleil’s “Varekai,” on the Grounds of RFK Stadium, will be in D.C. until Oct. 25. Student tickets range from $49.50 to $52.50. Call 1-800-678-5440 for tickets.

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