Nov 22, 2019
Darlene Wendels / The Collegian Cirque du Soleil Russian Swing acrobats prepare for the next stunt during rehearsal of "Varekai" at the Save Mart Center on Wednesday.

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Varekai’ takes flight

On tour since 2002, Cirque du Soleil’s “Varekai” made its way to Fresno on Wednesday for its first of seven performances at the Save Mart Center.

Since 1984, the internationally-famed Canadian entertainment group has been touring the world with performances of its now 19 productions, along with its permanent Las Vegas residence.

With its ambitious stunts, acrobatics, original music and colorful costumes, the production of “Varekai” came to fruition with about 100 people — cast and crew — in addition to 80 local hires for set up.

“Varekai” tells a rendition of the Greek myth of Icarus, who is gifted with wings of wax and feathers but falls to his demise into the depths of the ocean after ignoring his father’s warning not to fly too close to the sun.

In this elaborate show, Icarus instead falls into the deep, mystical world of “Varekai,” where a “magical forest, an ancient prophecy and fantastical creatures” come to help Icarus in his journey to take flight once again.

“It’s a story of rebirth,” spokeswoman Vanessa Napoli said. “When you fall in life, the people around us are the ones who help us move forward and gain our strength back. That’s exactly what Icarus’ journey is about.”

The word “Varekai” (pronounced ver • ay • ‘kie) means “wherever” and comes from the Romani language of the gypsies — the universal wanderers.

Much like the gypsies, the performers who make up the world of “Varekai” span from across the globe.

“We have around 19 nationalities on tour,” said Napoli of the 50 performers.

Many of these performers have been training for years and specialize in certain areas of acrobatics and for “Varekai.” There are no standbys if one performer injures his or herself.

Instead, the performers will either add the amount of stunts the performer does to compensate or continue on without it.

Since each act requires a large number of people, the audience won’t notice if one flyer of the 14 is missing from the Russian Swing, Napoli said.

“The discipline originated from Russian, so it’s a sport that’s dominantly from there,” Napoli added of the Russian Swing.

One of the flyers from the finale, “Swing to Swing,” can attest to the amount of training required for the stunt.

Vlad Maliutsin, a native of Belarus, has competed in acrobatics since he was eight years old and went on to do springboard acrobatics with the national Russian Circus before becoming a flyer for Cirque du Soleil for the past eight years.

“It was my dream to come here,” Maliutsin said. “As soon as I saw a video of Cirque du Soleil it became my dream and to grow somewhere, and Cirque is a good opportunity to grow here.”

Touring with Cirque du Soleil has also given Maliutsin a chance to travel to different places in the U.S. and elsewhere. On Monday, most of the cast and crew visited Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park.

“I get to rent a car, and go see so many beautiful places in the US,” Maliustin said. “Yosemite was amazing, and Sequoia was awesome.”

“Varekai” runs tonight in addition to multiple shows on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets range from $43 to $153 and can be purchased on Ticketmaster and at the box office of the Save Mart Center.

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