My 8yo who often pushes me away when I attempt a cuddle these days is curled up against me, watching intently and grabbing my arm from time to time or gently moving my face to deliver questions in my ear. We’re watching Varekai, by Cirque Du Soleil, the world’s largest theatrical producer, each Cirque show combines no-safety-net-daredevil acrobatics from around the world, with a magical theme and storytelling.
Theatre and performance are amazing for the soul and Varekai completely reminds me why I need it and why I love taking my kids. The rush to leave the house, to park the car and the bickering over appropriate treats soon vanish as we feast on on a riot of colour, music, costume, lights, a magical set and thrilling circus skills. I could watch their faces all night, I love seeing how humans performing on stage can elicit such incredible reactions in other humans, and it’s especially magical watching a show mirrored in a child’s face.
‘What’s is about?’ my son asks.
‘Who is that?’
‘Why has he got a lightbulb on his head?’
‘Why have they taken his wings?’
I confess I’m not entirely sure and we whisper back and forth and then I explain some of the show’s premise to the kids in the interval after a quick Google. Varekai means ‘wherever’ in Romani, the show is ‘an acrobatic tribute to the nomadic soul’. We discuss nomads, we like the theme a lot as keen travellers ourselves.
‘It’s set in an enchanted forest too.’ I explain. ‘Anything can happen! It’s like a dream.’
Icarus crashes to the ground in giant wings at the start and the kids recognise that story. My son is gloriously unperturbed by my inability to supply a coherent narrative and completely willing to go with it. I love that. As we watch we exchange thoughts, there is no sense of him feeling he has to understand it all, he totally gets that, just like the daring acrobatics and fantastical costumes anything is possible.
‘Where do they get their ideas?’ He asks, wide-eyed, mind spinning. I love that question, it’s full of thirst to be just as awe inspiring himself.
My 10yo daughter on the other hand watches with a sleepy spellbound gaze. It’s late and she’s not a night owl, but she doesn’t blink once or take her eyes away from the stage. It’s like she is grazing on a day dream. Afterwards I ask what her favourite part is and she refuses to dissect it.
‘All of it!’ She says dreamily, drunk on magic, ‘I loved all of it.’
There is so much to love. The gorgeously folksy fiddle-centric music has a gentle anarchy which reminds me of The Levellers. The wild and fanatastical costumes are designed to draw attention to the sheer risks the Cirque du Soleil performers take. The stunning enchanted forest set has a magnificent tree like structure climbing high into the lighting rig. The lighting is gorgeously clever – the lighting and sound desk is huge – it manages to keep pace with the performers, and occasionally tease them too. We giggled loads at the cheeky pre performance duo of larger than life clowning ushers who reappear throughout in a series of brilliant sketches as a magic show, entertainers and singers. Performers disappearing into holes in the stage like dolphins leaping into waves have us questioning our eyes.
The acrobatics are mind blowing, a tumbling, spinning, high rope swinging, gymnastic feat of unbelievable awesomeness. I have seen Cirque a handful of times now and they are always utterly spellbinding. It’s impossible to fathom what the human body is capable of, and how it can be turned into such incredibly beautiful performance gorgeously interwoven with a magical theme, story and imaginative possibility.
As the confetti fell and the stage was left filled with dizzying coloured costumes and performer’s unending energy, I knew Varekai was exactly what we needed, to switch off and feed our souls. It was a gloriously bonding night with my kids, that filled their heads with dreams and possibilities. I didn’t see many kids there, press night was a school night and it’s not a cheap ticket. But it’s absolutely worth taking them, dreamily engaging and wonderfully inspirational, Varekai communicates on a beautifully subconscious level and is dare devil proof of the incredible feats the human body is capable of.
Performance is so very important for our souls and it was a gift to share Varekai with my kids.
The story behind Cirque du Soleil, the world’s largest theatrical producer, is a brilliant one, with humble beginnings in street performance, my kids were fascinated by what is possible when you put your mind to it. They also loved hearing stats I found on google like it takes 250 hours a week to maintain the costumes involved!
Varekai is at Nottingham Arena until Sunday 12th March and then touring.