The Circus Came to Town //A Review of Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai

By Kevin Tshiamala

 201426_cirque du soleil_joe louis arena_meeks-211

SYNOPSIS

Cirque du Soleil’s show Varekai is the most out of this world, jaw dropping, and creative, transformative entertaining two hour experience since that last time you spent the night with your friend boomer.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  •  Audience: “As a person who has been habitually late to everything except my own birth, – for which I was inexplicably early – I, amongst my fellow peers had the common sense, respect and decency to show up early and not an hour into the show, laughing, texting and selfieing. This is not a concert, there is no opener, and you are giving Detroit a bad name.”
  • Music: “Everything is better with live music, especially when it is played by talented musicians.”
  • Performance: “All in all Varekai exceeds all of the hype that surrounds a Cirque du Soleil show.”
  • Wrap It Up: “If it is not on your bucket list, it should be, and after you see the show you will know why.”

AUDIENCE

A show with the prestige such as Cirque du Soleil is extremely selective in which cities they will showcase one of their performances. Despite the bankruptcy filing, the detrimental social and media output, and negative connotation since the riots, Detroit was fortunate enough to be chosen by Cirque du Soleil as one of those selective cities. As a proud city with humble and passionate people one would only expect a better welcome and participatory audience than the one on opening night at Joe Louis Arena.

We have all been a part of an audience, big, small, movies, sports, theatre, concerts, speeches, buskers and more. Depending on which medium you are participating within, by now we all know our role. Unless you are under the age of ten or have a personal handicap, there is no excuse. Cirque du Soleil has been a household name for decades and lacks any misinformed presumptions. When you sign up and have the pleasure of attending the magnificent world that is Cirque du Soleil, without ever having seen it, you know your role.

As a person who has been habitually late to everything except my own birth – for which I was inexplicably early – I, amongst fellow peers had the common sense, respect and decency to show up early and not an hour into the show laughing, texting, and selfieing. This is not a concert, there is no opener, and you are giving Detroit a bad name. Throughout the show, from beginning, past intermission, people kept showing up, looking for their seats, being ushered, laughing, dropping popcorn, disrupting the experience as if this were a movie theater. If this were the worst of it, this section most likely would not have been written, but there is more: the venue was not sold out, the audience applause felt half hearted and unappreciative, which was evident by the lack of a standing ovation at the conclusion. I’ve been searching for excuses to the actions of my fellow comrades, but even the ones that come up do not hold in comparison to the extraordinary performance by the cast and crew of Varekai.

We all know our role. When you realize a performer has just concluded as shown by their bow, you clap and cheer because your lazy ass has never done a back flip. When a musician finishes a magnificent number as shown by their bow, you cheer and clap because you own six guitars and have never played a song in your life. When something is funny, even if it isn’t, you laugh out loud because that person on stage is a participatory audience member. I will give you some credit Detroit. Some of you laughed, some of you clapped, but I doubt to believe that anyone of us was not amazed and entertained by every performance, for the way we expressed our gratitude was utterly disappointing. Detroit, this is inexcusable and I hope that this was just a case of the Wednesdays.

201426_cirque du soleil_joe louis arena_meeks-222

MUSIC

After my interview with Brigitte Larochelle, the band leader and keyboardist, I was excited, but still unsure of how the live music would be incorporated throughout the show. I was expecting a pit with an orchestra, which continued to show my lack of experience with primetime circus acts. The band consists of eight members (ten if you count the vocalists) featuring the drums (Paul Bannerman), keyboard (Alejandro Romero-Lopez), wind instruments (Christine Rua), percussions (Damion Corideo), bass (Mikey Hachey), and a violin. The band was hidden in the back of the stage, but all members were still in costume, despite the fact the only band members that got stage presence was the talented violinist (David Piche) and vocalists (Craig Jennings and Isabelle Corradi).

The music composition was spot on. It traversed through a few different genres in accordance with the various acts. Just like the show, it had a little bit of everything for everyone. From Latin influence, to Hasidic, Russian, to blues, rock, jazz, hip hop, and a genre I call Fantasia. The vocalist had amazing range and seemed as if they could cross genres, pitch, and tone with ease. Similar to what Brigitte relayed in our conversation, David Piche, the violinist, was her prize possession, the star, and he did not disappoint. His solos, shifts from 1st to 5th back to 3rd position while changing keys and amazing tone made me realize why I gave up my Viola career. Along with the violinist the remainder of the band sounded far from left. Their ability to improvise with the mood, tempo and acting throughout, along with all the little extra noises to affect feel, made the show.

I imagine that the band, since not front of stage, is an aspect of the show that is unintentionally overlooked. This is unfortunate for they are talented and as integral of a part to the show as the performers – for everything is better with live music, especially when it is played by talented musicians.

201426_cirque du soleil_joe louis arena_meeks-220

PERFORMANCE

After being an audience participant in the experience that is Cirque du Soleil, it now more than ever, makes sense as to why when asked to describe the show, people are at a loss for words and leave you with what you’ll come to find as great advice, “It is unbelievable. You must go see it if you get a chance.” The aesthetics of Varekai felt inspired by nature mixed with modern vibrant neon attentive colors. The stage set up was brilliant, interactive and truly transformed Joe Louis into the world of Cirque. The story line was easy to follow, which made the acts and performance more enjoyable. The lights, colors, dancing, stage set up, acting and comedic undertone throughout the entire performance made it feel as if you were watching a mixture of The Lion King, Avatar, and Fiddler on the Roof. Not to mention the element of fear that keeps you on the edge of your seat. That is why we are all wide eyed. We’re waiting to see, just if, something will go terribly wrong.

The set list consists of Animation > Musician’s Parade > Incantation > Fall of Icarus: Net, Icarian Games, Trapeze, Clown Magic, Georgian Dance, [intermission], Slippery Surface, Straps, Juggling, Light bulb, Canes, and Russian Swings [Finale]. The entire show is inherently PG, but as an adult you cannot help but be entertained by some of the sexuality whether present in the show or imagined. The men and women of the show are talented, fit, and flexible gymnasts who are absolutely breathtakingly attractive and one can’t help but dream. Since most of us will never get to experience it, as a friend who had the pleasure of going out with a Cirque du Soleil performer said, “It is everything you imagined.” All in all Varekai exceeds all of the hype that surrounds a Cirque du Soleil show.

201426_cirque du soleil_joe louis arena_meeks-219

WRAP IT UP!

Due to the state of Detroit we need as many positives coming into the city as possible. With the financial sector bringing worldwide attention and rebuilding the financial brand in Detroit on the rise, it is important that the artistic sector amongst others continues to prosper. The few day residency in Detroit by world renowned Cirque du Soleil is proof that people still have faith, believe in Detroit and that the artistic community is improving. It is important that we have more people bringing their talents here. A great way to accomplish this daunting task is to do a better job as an audience of representing our state, city and town by being a bit more enthusiastic and appreciative. For the performance put on by Cirque du Soleil and the cast of Varekai is unbelievable and second to none.

I hope that the members of Varekai get a better energy from the weekend crowd because they deserve it. I urge you to go out and witness the show. If you don’t get a chance to see them this time around, they will soon be back for a stay in Lansing, MI. If it is not on your bucket list, it should be, and after you see the show you will know why.

Fun Fact: There are 15 countries represented in Varekai: Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, United Kingdom, USA

For more information and tickets please visit www.cirquedusoleil.com, or call 1-800-745-3000.

I want to extend a big thank you to everyone from Cirque du Soleil and the show Varekai for the amazing performance and experience. I especially want to thank Amanda Iera, Brigitte Larochelle, Joe Louis Arena, Tim Meeks and HEAR.

201426_cirque du soleil_joe louis arena_meeks-206 “I’m freaking out right now man. The mushrooms are turning on me” – Knocked Up (2007)