BACKSTAGE AT VAREKAI BY CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
I recently had the great pleasure to accompany the local press to a media day for the European premiere of the VAREKAI arena show by Cirque du Soleil in Berlin. It was not the first time I had the chance to throw a glimpse behind the scenes of a Cirque du Soleil show as the Rockhal hosted the Quidam show back in 2014, but it was, once again, a thrilling experience.
So on a rainy Thursday morning, the group from Luxembourg traveled to Berlin. We met the rest of the German press delegation at midday at the lobby of the hotel where we got our access pass for the day; from there on we, a group of around 30 journalists and arena accompanists, went by foot to the impressive Mercedes Benz Arena where Julie, press relation of Varekai, welcomed us and gave us an overview of the production. The journalists got the chance to conduct interviews with some of the key performers and with Michael G. Smith, the artistic director of Varekai. We also got a behind the scenes tour which included backstage area as well as the wardrobe. At the end of the tour, we could assist to the rehearsals. of the Russian swing performance.
That’s how we got introduced to the magical world of Cirque du Soleil, who tries since 1984 to regularly reinvent the traditional circus without animals, only based on high quality acrobatics and great imaginary. Actually 2 sorts of shows do exist: the big top and the arena shows. Europe is actually a strong market for the arena shows as these can be hosted easier in bigger cities than the tent shows. Cirque du Soleil has actually 18 different shows touring around the world, seven of these are hosted in big tents. The challenge of Cirque du Soleil is to recreate a similar atmosphere for the arena shows (which allow to welcome more visitors) than for the tent shows. With the arena shows, a whole new audience can be reached but the shows need to keep the same flair.
First comes the idea for a story (which is as important as the performances)! Around 6 months are needed by a whole team to define the atmosphere and the emotions expected for a new show. Another team is checking the different disciplines that could fit the story before the set is planned and the music written. At this point only, the characters are defined. Cirque du Soleil does employ recruiters throughout the world who keep track of the most talented acrobats. The performers need to have a strong commitment to a team and this kind of characteristic can be found within the gymnastic federations, like for example in Russia, Brazil or Ukraine. When the performance team is put together, they can begin with the training and the organization of the show.
The performers are a key element of the shows by Cirque du Soleil. As they do not come from theater, they all have to learn to control and to show their emotions. They all come from the world of sports and are used to discipline. They need to warm up before the show and to cool down after their performance. That’s why you have a kind of fitness room straight behind the stage area. The performers are all completely professional.
Part of the show are the decors and the costumes which are all designed in Montreal. It takes around 3 months between the order and the delivery of the costumes. For a show, you can count around 2000 costumes and 250 pair of shoes. For Varekai, for example, the female performers do change 3 to 4 times their costumes, where as the male performers change only 2 to 3 times. The costumes need to perfectly fit the body and not inhibit it. They are changed and repaired on a regular basis by the tour costume designers. Impressive are the number of skin color twister as the costumes have to fit each skin color of the performers on the show! Around 16 machine washes are needed on arrival day at an arena. Each day the costumes need to be refreshed.
Loving to sew in my free time, I was kind of mesmerized by what we could discover when we passed the wardrobe on our backstage tour… Just a dream job for an amateur like me!
On a human point of view, a production, like for example Varekai, is composed of a team of around 100 people coming from 19 different nationalities with an average of 27 years of age : 65 performers, musicians and artistic team, 10 people for the accounting, administration and communication team and 25 technicians. This means 200 meals a day (lunch and dinner) which have to taste everybody, independent if artist or technician and they have to fit the different diets (i.e. a lot of proteins for the sportsmen) and wishes (vegetarian, vegan, etc.)!
On a production point of view, a show like Varekai, will need 18 trucks to travel the show from one city to another. The first load out, now for the premiere in Berlin, lasted 4 hours with 100 hands, specially hired for the occasion. They needed 12 hours for the whole set up (thereof 5 hours for building of the stage). Main element of the stage, the enchanted forest of Varekai is composed of 330 sticks made out of carbon fiber, each 11 meters long,
In general, a Cirque du Soleil show, like i.e. Quidam or O, does tour an average of 10 years in a big top before it is adapted for the arena, where it will be performed for another 5 years before it comes to an end. That’s one of the reasons why the show needs to be constructed in a way, that you can see the same show several times and each time see something different. A show has to constantly evolve and be refreshed to stay up to date. That’s why, for example, the color of the different costumes are regularly adapted to match the colors en vogue for the moment.
Varekai, whose premiere was recently in Berlin, is one of the oldest shows by Cirque du Soleil and it has recently been adapted for arenas. The mysteries of the universe and the human mind are reflected by action-packed dream sequences full of drama and acrobatics. The story plays in an imaginary world, called Varekai, with a captivating forest inhabited by strange and enchanted creatures.
The story begins at the moment when a solitary young man falls from the sky. He sets off on an adventure both absurd and extraordinary. On this day at the edge of time, in this place of all possibilities, begins an inspired incantation to life rediscovered…
From 17 to 21 February 2016, this astonishing, colorful and cheerful show is making a stop-over at the Rockhal in Luxembourg with the best of acrobatics, fantastic costumes and authentic live music. The show focuses on fourteen world-class acrobatics performances which only Cirque du Soleil is able to present. Accompanied by a spotlight symphony and its own soundtrack, the unique and touching world of Varekai arises in the midst of an imaginary landscape…
A show not to be missed!… Might be THE idea for a special Christmas gift for family and friends?!?
NB: all show pictures are copyright by Martin Girard for Cirque du Soleil