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Published 17 April 2008

If you caught Cirque Du Soleil’s last London outing in 2006, Alegría, you may be wondering how the circus troupe could top the gravity-defying acrobatic feats seen in that show. With Varekai, which finally receives its UK premiere at the Royal Albert Hall six years after its world premiere in Canada, the company proves it has lost none of its lustre, writes Caroline Bishop…

The Royal Albert Hall has welcomed world-renowned circus troupe Cirque Du Soleil to its lavish environs many times before; the large stage in-the-round and high ceiling provide the perfect setting for the company’s daring, space-filling acrobatics. This year the stage is transformed into a forest with a backdrop of tall bamboo canes and an imposing structure overhead that spouts ominous, hissing steam, conjuring a dragon or an evil creature as much as the volcano that it intends to represent.

Varekai, which received its British premiere last night, means ‘wherever’ in Romany, and the show is billed as ‘a tribute to the nomadic soul’. The concept starts with a winged man in white, a homage to Icarus, descending from the steaming opening of the volcano into a world inhabited by strange and colourful beings. After performing his own display of aerial acrobatics in the net that holds him, Icarus is taken on a journey around the world of Varekai, meeting different characters and witnessing the awesome acrobatics and circus skills that the inhumanly talented cast display.

Set to live music and singing, highlights in the show include trapeze artists, rope swinging, Georgian dancing, a juggler, a contortionist who can move her body into unfathomable positions, and a spectacular finale of acrobatics which has to be seen to be believed. This is hand-in-mouth stuff, and the fact that, very occasionally, a juggler drops a ball or an acrobat doesn’t quite land smoothly, makes the show seem all the more dangerously real and adds to the sense of relief when the most precarious of stunts come off without a hitch.

What is particularly impressive, in addition to the skill on display, is the trust that these performers place in each other, without which, these exploits could not be performed safely night after night. Never has teamwork seemed so essential.

The acrobatics are complemented by intricate, colourful costumes, atmospheric music, and comedic interludes from an inept musician and his clumsy assistant, all of which make Varekai a world like no other, and one which happily occupies the Royal Albert Hall until 3 February.



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