Seeing Cirque du Soleil has been right at the top of my bucket list ever since I knew what a bucket list was. I’ve waited patiently for 10+ years to see them, and now that I have, I can officially confirm that it was everything I wanted it to be and that I’m seriously contemplating running away to become some sort of trapeze artist.
We should probably start with a bit of context: when I was younger, I was training to be a professional ballet dancer. Alongside the classical discipline, we had intensive enhancement sessions in other genres outside of dance, to support our development and widen our employability. One of my intensive courses was circus skills training, and I think this is where I first heard about Cirque: the company takes on classical dancers as artists and at that point, it was actually a feasible career possibility. I looked them up and can remember falling in love with their Alegria production. Everything blended so beautifully together, and it was like somebody had taken all of my favourite things and smushed them all together into this beautiful piece of art. Since then, I’ve listened to Cirque’s soundtracks, watched YouTube videos, and even seen a showcase of their performers on holiday one time, but I’d never seen a production. I’d spent years pondering the cheapest way to go abroad and see one.
So fast forward to 2017 and I’m finally seeing a production: not in Las Vegas, not in Mexico, not in Canada, but in good old Sheffield. The next best thing, right? There’s a few parts of my experience that may have been affected by location that I’ll talk about later but ultimately, once Cirque began, I was in the forest where the show Varekai is set, and nowhere else. Hideously cliche, but true.
Varekai, meaning ‘wherever’ in the Romany/Gypsy language, follows on from the Greek myth of Icarus. Icarus, who has fallen from the sky, lands in the forest and has to learn to trust fate to keep moving himself forward. Each act in the show represents a part of his journey and demonstrates how trusting yourself will lead you to where you need to be. So, there’s a moral to the story, subtly intertwined into all the flashy dangerous shenanigans that lets face it, everybody is waiting for.
The first half featured aerial net work, synchronised tumbling, dance trapeze and ended with a Georgian dance performance. And, even after seeing all these terrifying stunts that came before it, the Georgian dance was the real highlight for me. I feel like dance is sometimes overlooked by a lot of people in a show like this but I swear, it was one of the best dance performances I have EVER seen. Michael Montanaro’s choreography was incredible, and the male dancers were doing freaking TRIPLE tours en l’airs like it was no big deal. Which, in normal person speak, translates as they could jump in the air, rotate at speed and probably have time to make a cuppa before they came back down again. Ridiculously good.
The second half featured slippery surface acrobatics, aerial straps, roue cyr (mind-blowing controlled movements with a hoop), sticks and hand balancing, and an acrobatic performance on crutches which really got me thinking. So, if anybody sees me dangling upside down from my wheelchair in the future, you’ll know why. And hopefully you’ll rescue me, because if you’ve seen my wheelchair you’ll know it can barely withstand pavement these days, let alone a wannabe disabled contortionist trying to navigate herself around the Tesco free-from aisle.
The big finale was the Russian Swings acrobatics, also known as the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed. Acrobats would jump from giant moving swings simultaneously, somersault through the air whilst narrowly missing each other, and land on the other swing across the stage, which was still moving. It probably doesn’t sound as terrifying in words, but I’m not exaggerating when I say it brought on a mild episode of tachycardia. The show ended whilst I was still recovering from second-hand stress, and I couldn’t believe that two hours had passed by so quickly. Since then I’ve been horizontally reliving the experience (minus the tachycardia) and planning an inevitable road trip around America to see the other shows. Who’s in?
My only (very minor) grievance isn’t a reflection on Cirque, but a reflection on seeing Cirque in Sheffield. I don’t know if it’s just a British thing rather than limited to Sheffield, because I know Cirque isn’t quite as prestigious here as it is in other countries, but I do know that there were a lot of idiots in the audience that night. The warning that not only were photos and electronics prohibited during the show, they were distracting and dangerous to the cast, did naff all. People’s phones and cameras were flashing and beeping all the way through, with seemingly no regard to the person swinging 20 feet above the ground on a trapeze, by the skin of their neck. GAH. I wouldn’t want it on my conscience if somebody got hurt, but clearly doing it for the Instagram was more important to these people. And don’t even get me started on how distracting it is for the rest of the audience too.
ANYWAY *inhales deeply and moves on*, the experience overall was unforgettable. What I loved particularly about Varekai was the creative direction, the subtle but always relevant story, the comedy (which I wasn’t expecting so much of) and the sheer talent of everybody involved, both on and off the stage. It’s almost impossible to describe: it’s not a circus, it’s not so much a performance or a showcase, but more of a unique work of art. Somebody combined dance, creativity, acrobatics, good music, and even some trampolining into a multi-talented company that creates beautiful concepts, and I feel so lucky that I finally got to witness one for myself.
To those who’ve put up with my fangirling over Cirque du Soleil for all of these years and thought seeing a show would bring an end to it, I can only apologise.