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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the June 18, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
In New York: Cirque du Soleil
No less astonishing and amazing in its performing artistry
as it is in its production splendor, the French-Canadian Cirque du
Soleil continues its dedication to the animal-less circus. Its latest
extravaganza, "Varekai," is being performed under a huge tent
at Randall’s Island Park, where spectators are immediately transported
to a strange and enchanting world. Atmospherics, settings and costume
design concepts and special effects are as important and essential
to this troupe as the highly unusual acts. But your full enjoyment
of the experience will also depend on your ability to be swept away
by the preponderance of purely esthetic conceits.
As the lights dim, a vision of a dense forest of over 300 trees (some
actually swaying to support climbers) catches our attention. Fabulously
costumed creepy crawlers begin to inhabit the 42-foot playing area,
as other feathered and winged creatures appear on catwalks and lookouts.
Your patience may be tried by the ever so slowly embracing atmosphere
(I believe it took 15 minutes before the first circus act appeared),
and tested by the inability of two of the show’s clownish characters,
in the guise of "Guide" (Rodrigue Proteau) and a "Skywalker"
(Gordon White), to provide a kind of non-narrative continuity. There
is, in truth, a real void to be filled in the clowning department,
made apparent as the show progressed by the intrusive, protracted,
and clumsy clowning of Claudio Carneiro and Mooky Cornish.
There is a slender story that threads through the show that is rather
endearing. It concerns the plight of Icarus (Anton Chelnokov), who
after his ill-fated flight and fall from the heavens and the loss
of his enormous white wings becomes a captive of the curious creatures.
He becomes enamoured of Olga (Olga Pikheinko), a lovely creature who
contorts sensually on canes. Chelnokov’s agility is defined by some
complex aerial dives and contortions within the net that holds him
captive. You could call this Icarus’ visit to a strange planet, as
the various creatures appear to take part in the festivities that
will end with the freeing of Icarus and the wedding of the lovers.
In red and gold bodysuits, the Rampin and Steven Brothers along with
other acrobats are catapulted into the air by human jugglers in a
fast and furious "Icarian Games." I enjoyed the twirling of
ropes with metal meteors attached to the ends performed by three young
Chinese boys named He Bin, Li Siguang, and Yang. Helen Ball, Cinthia
Beranek, Raquel Karro, Susanna Defraia Scalas, Zoey Tedstill, and
Stella Umeh performed their serpentine-like gyrations on a trapeze
with sensual grace.
Some frenzied music accompanied a "Georgian Dance" performed
with vigor by the agile dancers. A sliding friendly surface allowed
the company to simulate skating in one lovely number. But for thrills
it was the muscular Andrew and Kevin Atherton, who wore headgear like
a pair of Aztec warriors, that took our breath away as they flew over
our heads in synchronized flying suspended by wrist straps. Octavio
Alegria had the audience in his hands with his speed juggling of bowling
pins, soccer balls, hats, and ping pong balls, the latter spewing
from his mouth.
The show’s piece de resistance is a spectacular event in which
the acrobats are hurled into space crisscrossing each other either
landing on shoulders or canvas slides. As is the tradition, the music
by Vilaine Corradi is notable for its bizarre originality. There is
an eyeful of fantastical colorful costumes by Eiko Ishioka that alone
is worth the price of admission. Is it the best of all the editions?
No. But if you have yet to experience the Cirque du Soleil, you should
take this opportunity to escape the turbulent world we live in and
transport yourself to this more imaginative and magical world.
— Simon Saltzman
New York. Adults $75 & $95; children $52.50 & $62.50. For tickets
call 800-678-5440 or cirquedusoleil.com To July 6. Get there
by car via the Triborough Bridge, or most conveniently take the New
York Waterway Ferry to Randall’s Island ($10 r.t.) from 34th Street,
90th Street, or Wall Street.
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