Cirque de Soleil’s Varekai at the Amway Center Orlando

by Josh Garrick / Sep 19, 2014 / 0 comments

My favorite bumper sticker says, “YES, Some of US actually LIVE HERE” – an obvious and often-needed proclamation to the millions who visit Central Florida that the vacation they’re enjoying happens in a place that is ‘inhabited’ by reasonably normal Americans.  And since we LIVE HERE, those of us who like the theater OR like the circus OR enjoy death-defying tricks – have all seen La Nouba at least once.

So La Nouba goes on vacation, and the people who run the international corporation called Cirque de Soleil brings the traveling show – Varekai – into the Amway Center for a week – now through September 21. Since we want to see more Cirque, the question is … “Is Verekai different from La Nouba?”


Cirque de Soleil’s Varekai at the Amway Center, Orlando


The answer is a qualified YES.  YES – “Varekai is an impressive mix of drama and acrobatics: Stunning artistic performances, innovative music and an imaginative stage design,” but NO, that does NOT make Varekai “an incomparable experience.”  Matter of fact, the comparison between the two shows is TOO EASY. Sit La Nouba (1998) beside Varekai (2002), and the comparisons readily show the way in which Varekai is the unmistakable and somewhat more exciting ‘son of’ La Nouba.  

Therein lies the reason us ‘Cirquers’ will not miss Varekai.  


Cirque de Soleil’s Varekai at the Amway Center, Orlando


Varekai may have a similar format, and it may have comparable acts running in the same order as in La Nouba, but they are DIFFERENT ACTS … and they are THRILLING.

Where LN has the High Wire, V has an Aerial Hoop in which a young woman displays jaw-dropping flexibility and strength while flying through the air in a hoop.  Where LN has those four adorable Chinese girls throwing giant yo-yos to each other, V has equally adorable Water Sprites on a Slippery Surface flinging and catching each other and spreading joy. Where LN has the magnificent audience-favorite Aerial Ballet in Silk, V has the equally magnificent Aerial Straps in which two men fly through the air, suspended only by wrist straps (think of the upper body strength required for that!) performing synchronized acrobatic contortions of unbelievable precision and power. It’s a WOW.  Where LN ends with the “can’t believe my eyes” Power Track/Trampoline in which trampolines send acrobats and tumblers in and out of the windows of a three-story building, V has Russian Swings hurl acrobats high into the air only to have them land on their partner’s head or crossed wrists or on a giant landing canvas and even from one moving swing to the other (think precision timing).


Cirque de Soleil’s Varekai at the Amway Center, Orlando


Both shows have original music sung in nonsense syllables – LN has a sweet young soprano dressed in her Sunday best dress, (performed for years by local celebrity and all-around fabulous Sisaundra) while V has a huge bass-baritone dressed in a purple cloak.  Both shows have a Grumpy older man who helps and/or hinders the story-line, and both shows climax as our heroes find LOVE – the greatest power of all.  Finally, both shows end with a magnificent – but other-worldly – WEDDING, and don’t dare tell me I needed a spoiler alert for that bit of info.

Varekai was conceived by Cirque du Soleil 's Writer / Director Dominic Champagne, best known for The Beatles show LOVE and the very sexy Zumanity – both long-term hits in Las Vegas. When Varekai moved from its tent and became a touring show, the direction was assumed by Fabrice Lemire, a French choreographer with dual citizenship in France and the U.S. His work in rehearsal shows how a series of acrobatic acts put together over 10 years ago can come together, maintain a fresh feeling, and contribute to a tenuous story-line. I was there to see him work with the men who do the Wrist-Strap act.  There are now 1,300 performing artists, acrobats, and tumblers from 50 different countries in Cirques around the globe, and the first order of business is deciding what language to speak in rehearsal. Lemire gives short, precise direction about the positioning of a leg and I wonder if I’ll actually see a difference. Happily I do see the difference and understand that daily rehearsals lead to the fascination that keeps millions of us Cirquers coming back again and again.  


Cirque de Soleil’s Varekai at the Amway Center, Orlando


Varekai picks up where the Icarus legend (of ancient Greece) leaves off, and instead of falling into the ocean, our young hero is parachuted (as only Cirque can) into a magical forest. He loses his wings, but in this version he is caught in a net. Icarus’ struggle with the net provides the first solo performance of the evening -- an astounding series of air-borne dives and contortions in the net that holds him captive. It is the kindness – and love – of the forest creatures who teach the young man to ‘fly’ again.


Cirque de Soleil’s Varekai at the Amway Center, Orlando


For every one of us who has seen La Nouba more times than we can count – Varekai gives us one more reason to celebrate those gasps of wonder we’ve come to expect, and we only have a week to see it happen here in Florida. For tickets, visit,, or charge-by-phone at 800.745.3000.


Josh Garrick is the Florida Arts Editor for Wandering Educators


All photos courtesy and copyright Cirque de Soleil