Varekai: Behind the Scenes

Aliaksandr Barson

The Examiner had the opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai during a tour for the media Wednesday, March 5, at Ford Arena in Beaumont. The production, which features vivid choreography, stunning displays of skill and power, innovative music and otherworldly sets, is scheduled for March 5-7 at 7:30 p.m.; March 8 at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and March 9 at 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. at Ford Arena.

The set for Varekai includes about 330 bamboo poles that make up the enchanted forest, which Varekai publicist Vanessa Napoli said takes two hours to install. There are also “acrobatic trees” and a 30- meter-long twisting catwalk that is elevated above the audience.

Napoli said it took about 16 hours Tuesday, March 4, for about 20 Cirque du Soleil technicians and around 80-100 local hires to set up everything for the show. The teardown after the show takes about four hours.

The tour travels with 19 semi-trailer trucks full of equipment — 1 and half dedicated to costumes alone — to around 40 cities across the United States, Napoli said.

All the costumes were created 12 years ago in Montreal by now deceased costume designer Eiko Ishioka and maintained by four full-time wardrobe people who travel with the show.

“Ishioka’s idea when she created the costume was to create creatures who were mythical. … She didn’t want to make them look like regular creatures,” Napoli said. “They needed to look different. Her idea was to challenge the shape of the human body. So a lot of layers are used in the costumes. The shoulders are made really big to make them look like creatures.”

Laundry, which averages about 60 loads per week, is done on site by Cirque du Soleil; costume maintenance and cooking is also done on-site, Napoli said. Cirque has its own medical staff comprised of two physiotherapists who treat injuries and aches and pains.

“We’re like a village on wheels,” Napoli said, adding that the total production staff for Varekai numbers 100 people. “We do everything here.”

Also backstage is a full gym for artists to use before each show.

“If you don’t train, you get exhausted after five minutes on stage with the cardio,” she said. “It’s important to train your muscles and your body. Acts require a lot of strength.”

Diet is also important, Napoli added. Four chefs travel with the tour and prepare balanced meals for the artists.

“We don’t restrict what they eat, and it’s up to them to balance their weight and nutrition,” Napoli said.

Makeup generally takes about 30 minutes to two hours to prepare for each actor.

The music for the show is all live and performed by a seven-piece band and two vocalists, she said.

“The musicians are following what’s happening on stage and not vice versa,” she said. “The band is currently talking to each other through an earpiece to adjust the refrain or repeat a chorus to adjust to what’s happening on stage.”

Slippery Surface performer and acrosports performer Soen Geirnaert, 22, of Belgium, said she began working with Cirque two years ago and began training as a gymnast at the age of 8 and as an acrobat by the age of 10.

“I love it,” Geirnaert said of Cirque du Soleil. “I love my stage experience because you know you’re entertaining the people. You forget all your worries and just enjoy the show. It’s a really nice experience.”

Tickets start at $35 each and can be purchased at ticketmaster.com or through the Ford Arena box office.

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