Swing high, swing like a clown

Is there no limit to the imagination and creativity of the folks of Cirque du Soleil? Apparently not.

The Cirque show Varekai, which closed last Sunday in Sacramento and headed to Stockton, where it will play through Sunday, is one of the troupe's 18 shows around the world. Later this year, Cirque du Soleil and James Cameron will team up for a live-action Avatar production. It'll probably have more blue in it than some of the other shows, but all are quite colorful.

Varekai debuted in 2002 and has been seen by more than 8 million people in its 13 years. “Varekai” means “wherever” in the Romani (Gypsy) language, and like the wandering Romani, the story pays tribute to the nomadic soul and the questing spirit.

The story begins when Icarus (the boy for whom Daedalus, his father, created wings of feathers and wax) falls from the sky—not into the sea but into an enchanted rainforest where he must suss out the land and its strange inhabitants. These fantastic creatures are the acrobats and aerialists who perform the acts of the traditional cirque.

Viewers may get lost in the mind-blowing athleticism and artistry and lose sight of the quest that's at the story's heart, but the acts are hard to fault.

There is a young woman who takes your breath away as she hangs by one foot—one foot!—off a flying trapeze. And two young men suspended by wrist straps glide above the stage in a synchronized display of precision and power. Bodies bend in impossible-looking contortions as other performers balance on canes, crutches and each other. It hurts to look at how those bodies go in ways you know they're not supposed to.

Two big-cast acts, the Georgian dance and the Russian swings, are the most high-energy outings. The dancers' movements, frenzied but oh-so-precise, recall the struggles of the Georgian people as they resisted numerous invaders over the centuries. The Russian swings are two contraptions like pendulums from which man after man jumps or is hurled onto the opposite swing or up to a platform to be caught upright (sometimes in a handstand) by two other performers. That choreography has to be tight, tight, tight.

Two clowns—no cirque is complete without clowns—take the show on a couple of detours, but they are worth the ride. Joanna and Steven are their names, and Steven displays excellent timing and physical comedy as he tries to chase an elusive spotlight all the while singing Jacques Brell's “Ne me quitte pas (Don't Leave Me).” Clever, and hilarious.

Catch Varekai through April 19 at Stockton Arena, 248 West Fremont Street in Stockton. Head to www.cirquedusoleil.com for times and ticket information and to see a video preview of the show.