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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

Varekai, Cirque du Soleil, Randall’s Island Park,

New York. Adults $75 & $95; children $52.50 & $62.50. For tickets

call 800-678-5440 or 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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