On Stage: Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai

Also: The Flash is ‘Lights Out’ at Mushroom Festival

By Denny DyroffStaff Writer, The Times


Cirque du Soleil flies into town for five-day, 10-performance run at the Wells Fargo Center from Sept. 10-14.

For years, there were just two kinds of circuses in North America.

First were the smaller circuses that were held outdoors under the Big Top, which was a large tent that was erected at each location and then packed up after each stay. Later came the shows that were held in major arenas.

Both were similar. Both featured all the things people associate with the circus — clowns, wild animal acts, trapeze artists, jugglers, daredevils and a ringmaster.

Not surprisingly, both types remain popular today. There are the smaller circuses like the Cole Bros. Circus, which recently visited the area with its show under the Big Top. And, there are large circuses like the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus which brings its show each year to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Then, a new type of circus arrived in North America 30 years ago. In 1984, Cirque du Soleil made its debut. The circus, which is based in Montreal, used a theatrical approach that focused on characters. And, it had no performing animals.

Cirque du Soleil places creativity at the core of all its endeavors so as to ensure limitless possibilities. The Cirque du Soleil dream is also an integral part of its philosophy — to take the adventure further and step beyond its dreams. CdS gives its artists and creators the necessary freedom to imagine their most incredible dreams and bring them to life.

It was somewhat of a radical approach back when it started. But, it obviously was a smart one. More than 100 million spectators have seen a Cirque du Soleil show since 1984 and more than 15 million people attended a CdS show in 2013.

The Cirque du Soleil version of the circus kept the tradition of performing under a Big Top but, because the company is based in French-speaking Quebec, the tent is called the “Grand Chapiteau.”

A few years ago, Cirque du Soleil added touring productions that were made for indoor arenas rather than large outdoor tents.

One of those productions was “Varekai” — a show that is arriving in Philadelphia for a five-day, 10-performance run at the Wells Fargo Center (Broad Street below Pattison Avenue, Philadelphia) from September 10-14. “Varekai” made a tour stop in Philly 12 years ago and the show was held on South Broad Street under the “Grand Chapiteau.”

“’Varekai’ was created in 2002 and we just switched from tent to arena six months ago,” said the show’s artistic director Fabrice Lemire, during a recent phone interview. “Last December, we revamped it and transposed the production to an arena show.

“There were a lot of challenges. With the Big Top, the roofline is the same in every city. With the arena show, we have to have two heights. It has to be raised to the ceiling and there are a lot more wires that affect every aerial act.

“For example, it might be the same circle flight but it’s quicker. We had to re-analyze and adjust them all. The lighting took a lot of adjustment too. Everything had to be restructured. There were also a lot of changes to the sound system.

“For performers, they don’t have the same proximity because it is arena seating rather than close in-the-round seating in the tent. They have to work harder to reach out to the audience.”

The whole changeover was a major reconstruction project that should have taken a lot of time to accomplish. But, that option didn’t exist.

“It was a great challenge because they only gave us two-and-one-half weeks to make the change,” said Lemire, a native of Paris, France. “So, we started working on it six months before the changeover.”

In the Romany language, “Vare” is a prefix that corresponds to the English language suffix “ever.” “Kaj” or “Kai” is the Romany word for “where.” Put them together and you have “Varekai” — which means “wherever.”

In the fantasy world of Cirque du Soleil, a land called Varekai exists at the summit of a volcano deep within a forest. From the sky, a solitary young man Icare (based on the mythological character Icarus) falls into the shadows of a magical forest and sets off on an adventure. In keeping with its name, this production pays tribute to the nomadic soul of the Romany gypsies and to the art of the circus tradition.

“Varekai” features an international cast of more than 50 artists representing 18 countries and has been viewed by more than eight million people worldwide. It uses more than 600 costumes, shoes, wigs, hats and accessories — all custom-made at Cirque’s costume workshop in Montreal.

Its set features over 300 trees in the Varekai forest, a stage designed with five traps, two turntables, an elevating platform, a catwalk used by artists to travel over the stage from one end to the other and a lookout at the end of the catwalk.

In the show, Icare descends into a populated forest full of curious creatures where he is ensnared by a net, stripped of the wings that gave him flight and hoisted high above the forest floor.

In escaping his capture, Icare flies once again across the heavens in celebration. Then, when he touches the ground, he finds himself face to face with a beautiful young creature. Unable to communicate, they begin to mime each other and then fall in love.

“For the arena show, we did some concept changes where we felt it was needed so that we could take the show to a higher level,” said Lemire. “It’s very important to look at what’s available. So, we had a few acts that we replaced.

“For example, the solo trapeze used to be a double with four girls. And, we have a new backup act that we can put anywhere in the show — a high-level trapeze act with sticks. It’s super important to have a backup act when you travel.

“The storyline is the same as it always has been. But, I’ve really developed the love act with Icare and the butterfly without wings. He learns to stand up and walk and she finds love.

“The story’s main theme is — how do you let go of the past and allow yourself to move forward. The story is very accessible. It’s simple. The main plot is quite clear. And, there are messages that other people will get.”

Performances are scheduled for September 10, 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m., September 13 at 4 and 7:30 p.m. and September 14 at 1:30 and 5 p.m. Ticket prices range from $45-$100 with tickets for children (12 and under) ranging from $36-$81. For complete show and ticket information, visit www.cirquesoleil.com/varekai. To view a preview video of the show, visithttp://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/press/photos-videos/videos/page-2.aspx.


The Flash is Kennett Square is presenting Lights Out — A Tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons…the Music of the Jersey Boys” Sept. 6.

The Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) is hosting a special concert in conjunction with this weekend’s Mushroom Festival in Kennett Square

On September 6 at the festival’s Main Tent, The Flash is presenting “Lights Out — A Tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons…the Music of the Jersey Boys.” Doors open at 7 p.m., show time is 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $30.

“VIP/Meet and Greet Tickets” are available for $45. The activity, which runs from 6:30-7 p.m. includes finger food, refreshments, a meet-and-greet session with the musicians and table seating in the VIP section in front of the stage.  Food and refreshment will be available for purchase at the show for everyone.

liz longley

Downingtown native Liz Longley is back in the area with a show Sept. 4 at the Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse.

Liz Longley, a talented singer/songwriter who is a Downingtown native now residing in Nashville, makes a rare area appearance with a show on September 4 at the Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com). Tickets are $20 at the door.

Burlap & Bean will also present a free show featuring Charlie Phillips with Sylvia Coopersmith on September 5.  Sean Hoots and Ross Bellenoit will perform at B&B on September 6 with tickets listed at $10 in advance and $12 at the door.

“Peace, Love and Poetry” will be presented on September 4 at the World Café Live at the Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 302- 994-1400, www.queen.worldcafelive.com).

The performance on the Queen’s Downstairs Stage is billed as a “Soul Opera…telling stories of love & life through songs and poetry!” with local and regional artist performing dramatic stories of love and life using a unique blend of poetry and songs backed by a live band and DJ.


World Café Live at the Queen Downstairs Stage is hosting Delaware’s second annual Irish and Celtic music festival, featuring among other acts, the Young Dubliners, Sept. 5.

Be sure to wear green if you head to the Queen on September 5. The downstairs stage is hosting Delaware’s second annual Irish and Celtic music festival at featuring The Young Dubliners, Barleyjuice and Brother. On September 6, there will be a quadruple-header with The Hyde, White Trash Stars, the Steve Pepper Band and The Mad Trio.

The schedule for the Upstairs Stage includes lowercaseblues on September 5, Live at the Fillmore (an Allman Brothers tribute band) on September 6 and Classical Revolution Delaware on September 10.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will have a triple-bill on September 5 featuring Jeff Campbell, Matt Santry and Mike Greto. On September 6, the venue will host Brain Damage, a Pink Floyd tribute band.

Time is running out if you want to see a performance of “Book of Mormon.”  The ultra-funny hit musical is running through September 14 at the Forrest Theatre (1114 Walnut Street, Philadelphia 866-276-2947, www.kimmelcenter.org/broadway) as part of the Kimmel Center’s “Broadway Philadelphia” series. Ticket prices ranges from $67-$277.

Over the next few days, Africa will be represented by both “Book of Mormon” and a popular act from the southernmost country in the continent. The lively music at the Forrest is based in Uganda — in a village a few hours north of Kampala, the nation’s capital. The other act from Africa hails from Johannesburg, the capital of South Africa.

One of the most inventive — and energetic — musical acts to come out of South Africa will be making a special return appearance at the Electric Factory (421 North Seventh Street, Philadelphia,  215-627-1332, www.electricfactory.info) on September 5. Die Antwoord (which means “the answer” in South Africa’s Afrikaans language) will whip the audience into a frenzy with its politically-charged raucous blend of hip hop and rock.

The schedule for Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com)  for the upcoming week includes a “Bluegrass Jam” on September 4, Drew Nugent & The Midnight Society on September 5, Chaz and Lonnie Comedy Show on September 6 and an “Open Mic” night on September 7.

The Sellersville Theatre (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will have Brother and First Highland Watch on September 4, Live at the Fillmore (an Allman Brothers tribute band) on September 5, and Baillie & the Boys on September 6.

There will be matinee and evening performances on September 7 with Herman’s Hermits featuring Peter Noone and a triple-bill featuring Nik Turner’s Hawkwind,  Witch Mountain and Hederslben on September 10.

Upcoming shows at the Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) include Jim Boggia with The End of America on September 5, “An Evening with Catie Curtis” on September 7 and Spiritgrass on September 10.


Toto will brings its “35th Anniversary Tour” to the Keswick Theater, Sept. 4

Toto will brings its “35th Anniversary Tour” to the Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, http://www.keswicktheatre.com) on September 4 and will definitely rock out with its classic rock mega-hits such as “Rosanna,” “Hold the Line” and “Africa.”

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