Varekai – Zurich – Review

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Here’s a review by Peter Gilbert a fellow theatre practitioner I met via college, who recently saw Cirque Du Soleil’s Varekai in Zurich, where he’s based.

Varekai by Cirque du Soleil

Zürich, Under the White Grand Chapiteau at Former Hardturm Stadium

Review by Peter Gilbert, 24.10.2010

Having booked the tickets for this show a good few months in advance I’d forgotten all about it until I realised that I was a Cirque du Soleil virgin!

It being my first time I was naturally excited but also a little nervous due to all the history, hype and of course happiness that this company have given since the early 1980’s. In addition to those expected feelings, I also have my sceptical side about such large companies and am a pretty hard critic!

My reservations unfortunately were not changed to being that of a true believer of Cirque du Soleil’s trademark. As soon as you enter the impressive sized tents I was immediately disappointed by the total brand sales of all sorts of merchandise, the smell of cheap chemical popcorn and no attempt at creating any pre-show atmosphere! This was also heightened by the fact that my partner who had previously worked for another Cirque du Soleil show and had seen three other shows was similarly negative. But ok, this was just the pre-show experience “let’s give them a chance to show off what they’re good at and known for” I thought.

Entering the main big top started to get my juices flowing looking around at the “imaginary world”, checking out the flying rigs, lighting, staging and getting a feeling from the audience atmosphere. As “curtain up” time drew near two “usher” actors were taking people to seats, polishing bald heads and handing out popcorn to those in front rows,  something to watch at least during the waiting time. Little did I know that we would see this pair (dressed in normal novelty act magician & assistant costumes) frequently throughout the show breaking up the flow that was being created and performing very old tricks and not very funny slapstick comedy. It made no sense at all as there were clowns integrated into the actual Varekai show? Continuing with this prologue, Varekai characters (well; dressed up performers) starting appearing from all areas of the stage traps and climbing up/down various under used bamboo style poles. The actual opening of the show was relatively good and proved to have live stage musicians as well as some vocal music.

Throughout the show (with interval) the aerialists, acrobats and performers were generally impressive although producing nothing new. At only two or three very short points did I think and say to my partner “that’s amazing” or “incredible”! The audience response (half filled with children) was good but there were times especially during the comedy/novelty routines that there was a sense of unease and it made me feel uncomfortable in all the wrong ways!

By the end of the show, the finale luckily being the best part, the performing company had recovered themselves a little.  But I still left feeling let-down by the whole creative and imaginative world with no attempt at any through line of idea or story. Maybe it’s just me but this show from Cirque du Soleil just totally missed the mark and is not what I imagined or had heard about from public and official reviews!

To check that I wasn’t missing the point I referred to their website www.cirquedusoleil.com and quote from the DISCOVER WHO WE ARE section in order to give their criteria a fair review:

Cirque du Soleil is a multifaceted creative force. Here are the 8 characteristics that help define what we’re all about.”

ACROBATIC PERFORMANCE ****

ACTING **

ART FORMS FROM AROUND THE WORLD **

IMAGINARY WORLDS ***

DANCE **

DARING ***

DEXTERITY ***

GRACE **

At best I would agree with the Independent on Sunday’s review from 7 January 2010 by Zoё Anderson linked here.

If I were very hard then I would give it an unapologetic total of 2 stars! Disney can do it, why not other brands?

Having witnessed the likes of Circus KNIE (The National Circus of Switzerland) last year and FUERZABRUTA a few years ago amongst many other small-scale musicals, play and performance I can say from the Cirque du Soleil performance I tried to experience that they have perhaps spread themselves too thin and lost their je ne sais quoi!

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One thought on “Varekai – Zurich – Review

  1. Wel… I could not disagree more. I have been to only one CdS performance before. in the much larger Royal Albert Hall but my wife and I were at Zurich for this show and immediately got the circus buzz as we entered the smaller tents. Isn’t hot dogs and beer part of the deal? We did go for a more adult time and maybe that had something to do with the lack of response you and you audience were giving. The comic duo were hilarious, with perfect timing and there really was a story holding the performances together – did you not read it in a program or on the CdS web site?
    The acts were all of top quality although I do dislike bendy people! However the musical timing of the old man of the woods, the acrobatic skills of the guy on crutches and the trapeze artists were amazing. I do agree with you on the Russian Swings held off for the last piece, simply breathtaking.
    Couple all this with stunning costumes and make up, a fantastic sense of theatre, a plethora of bizarre “creatures” and live music and singing made, for us, one excellent night out.

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