Circus Couture

VAREKAI by Cirque du Soleil, directed by Dominic Champagne. Presented by Cirque du Soleil at the Grand Chapiteau, Ontario Place.


VAREKAI by Cirque du Soleil, directed by Dominic Champagne. Presented by Cirque du Soleil at the Grand Chapiteau, Ontario Place (955 Lakeshore West). Runs to September 8, Tuesday-Wednesday 8 pm, Thursday-Friday 5 and 9 pm, Saturday 4 and 8 pm, Sunday 1 and 5 pm (August 15-16 and September 5 at 8 pm only). $45.50-$85. Limited same-day house seats $85 (in person). 416-861-1017. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN

Whenever I see Cirque du Soleil, I usually think two things. One: are those prepubescent Asian kids getting a proper education? And two: what’s it like to have sex with an acrobat? C’mon, I know I’m not alone.I’ve always believed that founder Guy Lalibert and Cirque were very lucky. Their strategy of bringing couture and a vague, ethno-friendly feel to what’s essentially still a circus act coincided with the rise of Fashion TV and the New Age/world music phenoms.

It didn’t hurt that a ton of boomers armed with kids, a few words of French and disposable incomes wanted clean (you should see the porta-potties!), wholesome family entertainment.

That said, Varekai, Cirque’s latest extravaganza under the big top — excusez-moi, under le Grand Chapiteau — is their best in some time.

Maybe that’s because director Dominic Champagne has pushed for a clearer narrative arc for the show, which as usual follows the stunts-then-clowns-then-stunts formula.

This time out, a young man named Icare (Anton Chelnokov) loses his wings, falls from the sky, spots his beloved (Olga Pikhienko) and tries to win her over.

This being Cirque du Soleil, however, the woman keeps disappearing, and before he gets her back Icare must witness events that seem to have mytho-poetic significance (I don’t remember Icarus having a girlfriend), but are really just occasions for acrobats to perform gravity-defying feats.

Such as? A rousing Georgian dance number. A moving sequence with an old man and pair of crutches. A homoerotic aerial act between two men who look like buff birds. A juggler with awesome eye-hand-orifice coordination.

Clowns Claudio Carniero and Mooky Cornish certainly earn their salaries, as do the designers. The look and sound of the piece astounds.

What does it all mean? Who knows? The original myth of Daedalus and Icarus showed man trying to conquer nature, with tragic results. Varekai proves that raw talent and clever marketing can successfully conquer all — and serve up a happy ending.

glenns@nowtoronto.com

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