Arts & Culture

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Varekai’ stays fresh by constantly changing

Isabelle Dansereau-Corradi performs as the Muse in Cirque du Soleil’s “Varekai.”
Isabelle Dansereau-Corradi performs as the Muse in Cirque du Soleil’s “Varekai.” Courtesy photo

Icarus flew too close to the sun and fell from the sky. Next week he’ll be landing at Intrust Bank Arena. Instead of drowning at sea, Cirque du Soleil has re-imagined a different fate for the mythical winged character. “Varekai,” which opens Wednesday and continues through Jan. 18, finds Icarus landing on the summit of a volcano in a whimsical forest full of magical creatures.

Though Cirque du Soleil is usually known for its spellbinding costume visuals and acrobatic moves, the circus-style show offers music and sounds that are just as layered and enthralling. It’s the connection between those art forms that singer Isabelle Dansereau-Corradi, who plays the role of the Muse, finds most powerful.

“The acrobats’ moves are of course beautiful, but when you put in the music, it enhances the movement,” she said. “It adds to the tension as the spectator looks, and the music is there to support the act. It’s never the music in front of the act; the music will support the act, musically and vocally.”

Dansereau-Corradi, whose sister Violaine Corradi is “Varekai’s” composer, noted that all Cirque du Soleil music is live and that nothing is prerecorded. The singers typically perform in an invented language that the composer creates to go along with the melody. The music adapts to what’s happening on stage, making it quite a different undertaking than performing in a musical or another staged show.

“Cirque du Soleil is always a work in progress,” she said. “For an acrobat to feel that he’s continuing to grow, the coaches push them to their limits, and when a trick gets too easy, they change it up. They practice on another trick, and our band leader has to then sit with the artistic director, with the stage manager, with the coach, and decide where the momentum should next go. The visual that the people will see, and the music they will hear will be totally one.”

No two productions are exactly the same, Dansereau-Corradi said, and that’s the result of intentional work. Before each show, she talks with the main characters to see how they’re feeling and to see what intentions she should put into her voice.

“If someone saw ‘Varekai’ in 2002 when it was created, and they came to see a show today, they would say it’s a different show. The story is the same, and some of the people may be the same, but everything is always alive; nothing is redundant or repetitive.”

The realm of “Varekai” promises to transport audiences to “another world,” a jungle that’s a kaleidoscopic landscape of different sounds, animals and creatures. There are no actual animals in the show, though, making the elaborate costumes all the more important. The performances are a fusion of acrobatics, dance and drama. Different cultures and periods of time are explored, including ancient traditions of Icarian games and Georgian dance as well as twists on Russian swings and slippery surfaces. “Varekai’s” international cast features 50 performers and musicians from 18 countries.

“We have so many different nationalities in ‘Varekai,’” Dansereau-Corradi said. “It’s so beautiful to have all these cultures working together. It’s a good example for the world, too. We have Georgians and Russians working together. We have Ukrainians and Russians working together. There’s peace. It’s a little example that if we can achieve it in this little village of Varekai, in the world – with some time – we can achieve it too.”

Now in its 30th year, Cirque du Soleil offers “Varekai” as one of several shows that are currently touring. The production opened in Montreal in 2002 and has since traveled to more than 72 cities and 20 countries. The word itself means “wherever” in Romany, which is often referred to as the “Gypsy language.” It’s a metaphor for the imaginative and nomadic journey undertaken by Icarus in this performance.

Dansereau-Corradi hopes people feel they’ve traveled to the land of Varekai themselves after having gone to the show.

“The people will be transported. People tell us all the time that they didn’t feel like they were in the city where they were at, it’s like another realm. That’s the beauty of Cirque du Soleil, it’s like a dream.”

If you go

Cirque du Soleil Presents ‘Varekai’

What: A circus-style infusion of dance, music, culture and costumes that blends 20 different cultures into a performance that takes audiences through an imaginative, multi-sensory journey

Where: Intrust Bank Arena, 500 E. Waterman

When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Jan. 16; 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 17; 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Jan. 18

Tickets: $37-$152; youth (ages 2-12) $30-$133, or 855-755-7328