The first time a Cirque du Soleil show visited Manila, I ignored it. I thought it was just another circus.

But I was bitten by the Cirque du Soleil bug when I watched La Nouba at the Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida during our honeymoon. πŸ™‚

I love Cirque du Soleil shows because of the wonderful storytelling, lighting, costumes, and original music, which set the tone for an unbelievable acrobatic show. It is a plus that they don’t use any animals in any of their performances.

Needless to say, I got addicted.

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Varekai’s Souvenir Program (P200).

Since La Nouba, we’ve started collecting Cirque du Soleil’s souvenir programs and paraphernalia.

We also watched Mystere in Treasure Island, and Zumanity in New York-New York Hotel and Casino (both in Las Vegas).

Recently, I watched my fourth Cirque du Soleil show — Varekai — and it was indeed a memorable and “fun” experience.


The Story of Varekai:

Since the Grand Chapiteau (Big Top tent) is relatively intimate, the dramatic lights and animated costumes of the creatures draw you into the world of Varekai.

(Title : Russian Swings | Picture credit : Rick Diamond | Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka)

Deep within a forest, at the summit of a volcano, exists an extraordinary world—a world where something else is possible. A world called Varekai.

From the sky falls a solitary young man, and the story of Varekai begins. Parachuted into the shadows of a magical forest, a kaleidoscopic world populated by fantastical creatures, this young man sets off on an adventure both absurd and extraordinary. On this day at the edge of time, in this place of all possibilities, begins an inspired incantation to life rediscovered.

The word Varekai means “wherever” in the Romany language of the gypsies, the universal wanderers. This production pays tribute to the nomadic soul, to the spirit and art of the circus tradition, and to the infinite passion of those whose quest takes them along the path that leads to Varekai.


About Varekai Characters:

Before watching the show, it helps to get acquainted with the characters because you won’t understand Varekai’s alien language. The souvenir program won’t explain that either.

(Title : Flight of Icarus (The) | Picture credit : Benoit Camirand | Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka)

Icare (Icarus)Innocent and vulnerable, he finds himself wounded in an unknown world. His desire to live and overcome his fears will drive him to new heights and an eventual rebirth.

(Title : The Guide | Picture credit : Benoit Camirand | Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka)

Le Guide (The Guide)Weathered by the sun of many centuries, he’s like a kindly, fragile great-grandfather—a wise old man whose mission is to inspire and bring about change.

(Title : The Skywatcher | Picture credit : Benoit Camirand | Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka)

La Vigie (The Skywatcher)Mad scientist and ingenious inventor, collector of the world’s memories and interpreter of signs, this is a man who receives signals, transforms sounds and forewarns of trials and tribulations.

(Title : The Betrothed | Picture credit : Eric Piché | Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka)

La Promise (The Betrothed)An exotic creature who enraptures Icarus with her sensual beauty. She will be his guiding light and he, in turn, will be the catalyst for her metamorphosis.


About Varekai’s Music:

I was enchanted by the eclectic original music of Varekai. It’s amazing to note that it was performed live!

(Title : Musicians | Picture credit : Véronique Vidal | Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka)

To create the musical score for Varekai, Violaine Corradi drew inspiration from the vast repertoire of world music. Each piece seems to evoke a meeting or juxtaposition of different cultures, which are not always identifiable.

Violaine Corradi combined the sounds of Hawaiian ritual, the songs of 11th-century troubadours from the south of France, traditional Armenian melodies and gospel music with contemporary arrangements to conjure up the unique musical universe of Varekai.

The 7-piece band includes a bandleader/keyboards player, a second keyboard player, drummer, percussionist, bassist, violinist and a wind instruments player, plus 2 singers—one male (The Patriarch) and one female (The Muse).

Varekai Acts that I Loved πŸ™‚

(Title : Aerial Straps | Picture credit : Rick Diamons | Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka)

1. Aerial StrapsTwo flyers suspended by wrist straps glide gracefully above the stage, performing original acrobatic figures in a synchronized display of precision and power. With a double strap, the two artists meld midair, becoming one in a series of striking acrobatic silhouettes.

Aerial Strap acts are quite common in any circus. I liked the unique formations and the ease with which the performers transitioned from one position to another. πŸ™‚

(Left Photo: Title : Flight of Icarus (The) | Picture credit : Marco Cisaria | Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka)
(Right Photo: Title : Fall or Icarus | Picture credit : Rick Diamond | Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka)

2. Flight of Icarus (The)With agility, deftness and sensitivity, a young man performs astounding dives and contortions in the net that holds him captive.

The Icarus scenes were dramatic, especially when he fell from the sky, with only the net to break his fall.

(Title : Handbalancing on Canes | Picture credit : Tomas Muscionico | Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka)

3. Handbalancing on CanesShowing astonishing grace, strength and flexibility, a young woman balances on a series of strategically placed canes. Poised now on her feet, now on her hands, she contorts herself on her canes, maintaining a delicate equilibrium.

This super flexible woman was fun to watch as she contorted her body while balancing on what seemed like really thin canes.

(Title : Icarian Games | Picture credit : Rick Diamond | Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka)

4. Icarian GamesThe Icarian Games, an ancient discipline of the circus arts rarely seen in today’s contemporary circus culture, return to centre stage. The human body becomes catapult and catcher in an elaborate, explosive and highly choreographed presentation of strength, balance and agility.

This was awesome! An acrobat lying down would use his feet to catapult another acrobat into a 360-degree spin and catch him on his butt, and then repeat the process.

(Title : Clown | Picture credit : Tomas Muscionico | Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka)

5. My Varekai Act (with the Clowns).

There were two occasions when the clowns got a “volunteer” from the audience to participate with them as a breather in between the acrobatic shows.

I won’t reveal anything about the first. But I will share that I got picked as a “volunteer” for the second one. (If you’re planning to watch Varekai and would like to not know the details, kindly skip this part. πŸ™‚ )

*Spoiler Alert*

While the lady clown was walking down the main aisle, I was trying to avoid her gaze and make eye contact. But she still caught me glancing her way and, thus, I was chosen for their act.

We walked down the aisle and I was first to go up the stage. She whispered an instruction but I couldn’t comprehend what she said because of the noise.

Then, I found myself in the middle of the stage with the male clown standing in the distance and the lady clown waiting on the steps, posed as if she was having her photo taken, with her hands raised.

I couldn’t see the crowd because of the lights. A lot of thought bubbles were popping up in my head:

I do hope nobody recognizes me.
Is this a set-up?
Sana sandali lang ito, and it should be easy like the first volunteer.
Sana hindi nakakahiya… 
Wala naman sigurong kaibigan na nanonood dahil weekday.

 After a minute, I realized that I should take the lady clown’s hand and bring her up to the stage. (“Oh no, how ungentlemanly of me,” I thought.)

This signaled the start of my funny and partly embarrassing “stage debut”.

We went inside the magician’s shower curtain and, the next thing I knew, the lady clown was all over me. In the next sequence,  a lady creature replaced the lady clown, then it was just the lady creature and the lady clown, and finally…

I appeared onstage with my jeans raised just below my knee, my short sleeves folded, wearing a blonde wig — and the dress of the lady clown.

I went along with it, at least I made some people happy. πŸ™‚

In the final sequence, the male clown asked me to read a message hidden in his clothes. It was an instruction to push a bomb detonator after a reverse count of 10 in Filipino.

He started counting with the crowd, “Sampo, siyam, walo…”

At the count of zero, I was wondering whether to spoil the fun or not, but I decided to be a good sport. When I detonated the bomb, the female clown’s “head” went kaboom. πŸ™‚

With a final bow to the crowd, I ended my fun experience and went back to my seat in full costume.

*Spoiler Alert Over*

Well, at least that gave me bragging rights that I was part of Varekai’s July 7 performance!

The lesson? If you want to be part of the show, choose seat #1 in the premium section 101 or 102. πŸ™‚

(Title : Solo on Crutches | Picture credit : Marco Cisaria | Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka)

6. Solo on Crutches. Like a jointed puppet, a performer on crutches teeters in a stirring dance.

It was my first time to see an acrobatic dance performed on crutches. Nice! πŸ™‚

“Did you know that the true awesomeness to the Solo on Crutches is that the man is truly HANDICAPPED? Originally the part was choreographed by Bill SHannon who had LCP disease and the character was executed by an able man (Vova). But then the role was succeeded and performed by Dergin Tokmak who was actually disabled! Dergin is the one you watched in Manila. His dance is a mix of Shannon’s original choreography with his own personal style of crutch-break dancing. It is for this reason that the Solo on Crutches has become my favorite performance by far. Here’s a link:” –  Catherine Del Rosario

(Title : Triple Trapeze | Picture credit : Belinda Pratten | Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka)

7. Triple TrapezeFrom their trapeze high up, four young women perform a series of striking acrobatic moves, displaying grace, sensuality and impeccable timing.

I liked the silhouettes formed by these graceful ladies. It was like synchronized swimming, but instead of water it was done in mid-air. It would have been fun capturing each formation with my own camera.

(Title : Russian Swings | Picture credit : Patrick Bernath | Costume credit : Eiko Ishioka)

8. The Finale — Russian SwingsBreathtaking! Propelled by two Russian swings, acrobats are hurled high into the air, alighting on their partners’ crossed wrists or on a landing canvas. In feats of outstanding audacity, the acrobats even soar from one moving swing to the other!

The main finale will literally take your breath away. They made it look so easy, hopping on the swing and being hurled high up in the air. At the end of it, I thought to myself, “Parang masarap sumali sa circus.

My Varekei “performance” will just live in our memories (with the people who watched the July 7 show) and in my wife’s smile everytime she remembers it.

Now, I appreciate the wisdom behind not allowing picture-taking during the show. πŸ™‚

Four down and 18 more Cirque du Soleil shows to go! Next time, I want to watch Criss Angel’s Believe and “O” in Las Vegas. πŸ™‚

To all OAP readers out there, don’t miss Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai here in Manila!

Cirque du Soleil VAREKAI
Written and Directed by Dominic Champagne
Official Website: Varekai
Official Manila Site:  Varekai in Manila
Manila Schedule: June 22 to July 24, 2011
Location: Luneta grounds in front of Quirino Grandstand

Buy your Varekai Tickets here.

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Full Disclosure: We got complimentary tickets from the Cirque du Soleil Varekai Manila team.

Note: Varekai Photos and Information are official press room information from Cirque du Soleil.

P.S. Here are some tips for an awesome Varekai date:

TIP #1: When is the Best Time to be there?

The staging tents (where they serve snacks, sells souvenir programs and shirts, and have the sponsor booths) open at 6.30pm.  Gates 1, 3, 5, and 7 are on the left tent while Gates 2, 4, 6, 8 are on the right.

The main tent, where the stage is located, is called the Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) and it opens at 7.00pm.

The show starts promptly at 7.30pm and ends at around 9.30pm-10.00pm. There is a 20-minute intermission for a restroom break.

Target to be there at around 6.30pm-7.00pm.  Dress code is Smart Casual.

The Box Office opens at 4.30pm (3 hours before the show). Walk-ins can buy tickets, and senior citizens who bought their tickets online can redeem their senior citizens’ refund.

TIP #2: Best Varekai Seats in the Grand Chapiteau (Big Top)

There are three types of tickets — the General tickets, Tapis Rouge tickets and obstructed view tickets.

We recommend the general tickets if you’re watching on a weekday. Level 3, near the aisles, on a weekday has the best value seats in the house. Anyway, the tent is relatively small, and you can see the stage from any angle.

The Tapis Rouge is simply VIP treatment for serious circus-goers.

The obstructed view tickets are seats that have their view blocked by the big supporting pillar structures of the big tent.

TIP #3: Where to Eat?

We don’t recommend buying food from the snack bar, which sells hotdogs and barbecue at around P70 each, siopao for P50, popcorn for P90 and drinks for P30-P50.

There are a lot of places to dine before the show. We recommend Harbor View, Manila Ocean Park’s Makansutra, and the Mabuhay Palace Chinese Restaurant in Manila Hotel.

Best to watch the matinee Varekai shows (3.30pm on a Saturday or 1.00pm on a Sunday) and have dinner at Manila Hotel’s restaurants after (they close at 10pm).