Cirque du Soleil takes Dubai into the forest of whimsical creatures

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Varekai’ gives a twist to the Greek mythological parable of Icarus, after falling from grace into an enchanted world

Rua’a Alameri

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There was a buzz of excitement as crowds gathered around the gates to be let into the arena at the Dubai World Trade Center for the opening night of Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Varekai’ in Dubai on Friday.

When the multimillion-dollar extravaganza that is Cirque du Soleil returned after a three-year absence, it’s no wonder that the opening show was a sellout – with the 7,350 seated amphitheater almost filled.

Despite the disorganized hustle of the event organizers attempting to get everyone seated in time for the show, there was a sense of nostalgia that took me back to my childhood memory of when I first attended a circus, remembering all the talented acrobats that amazed me.

As the lights dimmed down, the humming whispers among the audience gave way to pin drop silence, and the thrills of ‘Varekai’ – meaning 'Wherever' in Romanian – began with lavishly costumed forest creatures traipsing out of their hiding places.

Modern twist

The performance had the set formula of a circus show of dancers and acrobats as well as comic acts, all centered around the story line of an angelic man who tumbles gracefully from the sky, his enormous feathered wings no longer able to carry him.

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Varekai’ gives a twist to the Greek mythological parable of Icarus, after falling from grace into an enchanted world, with an array of performers from around the world, including a group of dancers performing the traditional Georgian dance.

Other acts included the Japanese Arisa Tanaka who was placed second in the 2012 World Baton Twirling Championships, who wowed the audience with her skills with the sticks on stage.

Despite the elaborate staging and the mesmerizing acts, that included live musical performances and singing, some audience members – who had paid for tickets ranging from $66 to $624 - felt that the show lagged on the whole.

The French-Canadian company founded in 1984 usually dedicates an ample budget to their shows, yet some who attended the show felt that the performance was dwarfed by previous Cirque du Soleil shows.

“I’m rather disappointed if I’m honest,” Nisreen Shocair, President of Virgin Megastores MENA, told Al Arabiya English.

“It’s one of the best shows I’ve seen in Dubai, but it doesn’t compare to other Cirque du Soleil shows,” Shocair said.

Another observer said that there was not enough strong circus acts and that there were “too many fillers” in between that detracted from the performance, as it gave more of a theatrical approach rather than the traditional circus style.

Incredible second act

However, ‘Varekai’ saved its most breathtaking stunts for the second act, which included an incredible performance by American trapeze artist Kerren McKeeman, the only one in the cast with a traditional circus background, and a finale comprising ridiculously daring acrobats on the Russian swings.

‘Varekai’ is one of many of Cirque du Soleil’s touring productions that premiered in Montreal in April 2002, and has since toured around the world.