Starting as a group of 20 street performers in 1984, Cirque du Soleil has come a long way.
Having been seen by more than 40 million people, its reputation now precedes it – meaning I had high hopes at the premiere of Varekai, at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
Varekai, we’re told, is a Romany word for ‘anywhere’ – and that’s exactly to where we are transported.
The first setting is a fairytale, futurist rainforest, on to which our cast slithers and crawls, dressed as an array of brightly coloured fantasy creatures.
After a bizarre scene where Vigie ‘The Skywatcher’ captures sounds and turns them into bird song, an elegant Icarus (Mark Halasi) tumbles out of the sky, with a mesmorising routine.
From that point on, the story becomes vague – mixing song, dance and humour to a hard-to-follow plot – but the daredevil acrobatics and graceful routines more than manage to grasp the attention.
The best from the first half includes a staggering performance which pits gravity against skill.
The audience audibly gasped when, for about five minutes, five muscly men take it in turns to spin each other’s bodies with just the soles of their feet while reclining on a padded chair.
Then, after another memorable act – this time from four angelic females on a triple-trapeze who make spinning and tumbling at a great height look easy – just when I thought things couldn’t get anymore random: cue the double act.
Steven Bishop and Mooky Cornish – eager-eyed audience members will spot the comedy duo dressed as ushers and causing mischief in the stalls before the show starts – dress as a magician and his assistant, providing slapstick comedy and provoking laughter.
Yes, it was amusing, but it seemed another world away from our fantasy Varekai…
So, anyway, on with the show.
The second half is heavily packed with sparkling stunts and daring displays – Bishop and Cornish also make a few amusing returns, contributing to the illogical theme of the show.
Twin brothers Andrew and Kevin Atherton give an amazing acrobatic performance in the air as Castor and Pollux – with just wrist straps to hold them - before handing the stage over to a juggling virtuoso who delivers spell-binding feats.
Icarus finally meets his love (I think!) after she performs a dazzling display of flexibility and grace while gliding above the stage on a hoop.
The finale is literally an all-singing-all-dancing act by Russian Swings – the 13 males take it in turns to flip from one ‘swing’ to another before being catapulted to two men standing on a platform – landing with their feet on the stationary performers’ hands. Bravo!
All-in-all, with amazing acts by mind-bogglingly talented artists as well as peculiar costumes and fantastical settings, who needs a plot or a real location? You really could be anywhere.
How to buy tickets:
Book to see Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai until Sunday 14 December at the Royal Albert Hall. Tickets start at £20 and are on sale now. Visit www.cirquedusoleil.com or call the Cirque du Soleil ticket line on 0845 501 5008.