Cirque du Soleil brings Varekai to OKC 

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There is a long tradition of magic under the big top. Circus comes from 18th-century Middle English, roughly meaning “a traveling band of performers.” Since they most often performed in the round, the name also comes from the Latin circus, or circle.

Since its creation in Montreal, Canada, in 1984, Cirque du Soleil has become known for creating unimaginable feats of human ability and spectacle.

The company has created more than 19 unique shows and appeared in more than 271 cities. The company often tours using its trademark blue-and-gold big- top tent, blending high-tech effects with breathtaking talent. The circus also takes its shows into arenas. Oklahoma City audiences get a chance to witness Varekai Wednesday-Sunday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, 100 W. Reno Ave.

Updated imagination Artistic Director Fabrice Lemire is no stranger to either side of the stage. He started his performing life as a dancer yet yearned for more from the stage.

“I really loved my career. I wanted to expand my horizons and work with studio choreographers, and I always loved to be challenged. I could not be just an instrument,” he said.

The chance to direct challenged him in ways that he could not imagine, and he has been thrilled with the ride.

When the time came for him to work on Varekai, he had some ideas about how to breathe new life into the show. At the time, it was 12 years old and was making the transition from a tent show to an arena show.

Lemire had previously made big changes to the popular Zaia stage production and knew he was up to the task with Varekai. He had several radical updates in mind and brought them all to the table when he was picked for the job. The board was delighted and believed audiences would be too.

“I found it to be the biggest success and the biggest gift the company could give me. I feel like the company knows my forte and they are using my talents correctly,” he said.

Most of the changes to the show came about when Lemire examined how the world had changed in the 12 years since the show’s creation.

“You just look at what’s available, what’s outside,” Lemire said. “This generation is the selfie generation, the social media generation. They’ve seen Avatar. You learn what you can about them and what appeals to them.”

Lemire has been in the business long enough to know that you cannot please everyone. He’s by no means cynical, but he takes criticism and praise in the same way.

“It doesn’t have to be right. There is no right way; it’s your interpretation of the piece,” he said.

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New wings Varekai takes cues from the story of Icarus, a bold young man who fashioned wings of feathers and wax and flew too close to the sun. The ancient Greek myth is a cautionary tale about exceeding your limitations. This is where the plot of Varekai diverges.

In the show, Icarus does not fall back to earth; he travels to a distant land where everything is foreign. He meets a cast of characters along the way who affect the way he adapts to his new surroundings.

If you ask Lemire, the theme of the show is adaptation, as the primary character has to learn how to live in this strange and unexpected place.

Lemire, who moved to Macau, China, to work on Zaia, knows all about acclimating to a new place, which is what drew him to the project. You have to learn a new language and culture, not to mention local taboos and niceties that go largely unexplained. It’s a situation in which you often have to feel your way with nothing but your instincts.

“This show resounds with me in a lot of ways, and also with the artists. It’s the story of adapting to a new community and a new experience. It’s an allegory of what we do every week but also what we do as humans,” he said.

Lemire is captivated by the magical aspects of the show no matter how many times he watches it. Creating an illusion that defies physics and expectation gets him every time.

“It’s something the human body cannot do, and I find it absolutely magical,” he said.

Whether or not you know the rules or how it’s done, the enchantment never fades. This is Varekai’s gift to the audience night after night — it transports them to another place where reality is not as it seems.

Lemire’s advice for those who have never been to a Cirque du Soleil performance is simple.

“Just go and get yourself carried away,” he said. “Just take it as it comes at you and you will feel every emotion all the way through the climax and the end.”

Print headline: Bazaar adaptation, World-famous magic-maker Cirque du Soleil brings another spectacle to Oklahoma City with a revitalized production of Varekai.

 

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