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Out and About: Backstage with Cirque Du Soleil

Two weekends ago, (instead of re-reading the Benihana and National Cranberry cases in preparation for my TOM midterm), I took a “study break” and drove down to Hartford, CT, where Cirque Du Soleil has set up its signature yellow and blue tent (and where it will remain through October 16).

The following is a brief recount of this surreal experience:

I arrive at Hartford late, with only a few minutes left before the performance. Julia, the wife of a Russian Swing acrobat, passes me through the security check straight into the main rehearsal area. I’m in a circus!

We pass a crew of acrobats practicing jumps and twists, a fully dressed clown checking his Yahoo email, and a few gymnasts getting a warm-up massage before the show. Julia introduces me to Paul, the drummer, who is supposed to take me to the show. Paul is dressed in an all-purple goblin-like costume, with thick layers of blue, yellow, and white makeup covering his entire face.

I follow Paul into the darkness of the main hall, up some improvised stairs, into a tiny sound-proof box full of drums, percussions, rhythm computers, and equalizers. Paul puts me up in a folding chair next to the window, from which I could watch the entire performance. For a moment there, I feel like an HBS applicant about to sit in his first-ever LEAD case.

Through my sound-proof headphones, I hear the action on stage, mixed with casual conversations among the musicians and the director. As a funny surrealistic voice reminds the audience to turn off all phones and cameras, I hear the director’s French-accented blessing to the music crew: “have a good show everyone.” The performance is about to start!

Varekai is the latest (yet not really recent) Cirque Du Soleil US production that draws significantly upon the Eastern European gypsy traditions in music, imagery, and spirit. In fact “Varekai” is supposed to mean “Wherever” in some gypsy language. I can’t be sure if they made it up, but the protagonist’s name Ikarus sounds Hungarian enough to me. Dominating Eastern European and Gregorian themes in the music and choreography, combined with the jungle-like stage and costume design, make Varekai reminiscent of a Maugli cartoon shot by Emir Kusturica, with his signature references to gypsy tales and tunes.

While the entire show is breathtaking, I was particularly impressed by the powerful Georgian Dance (performed by authentic dancers from Georgia); the act of Handbalancing on Canes (performed by Irina Naumenko); and the Solo on Crutches (Jayko Elon uses a pair of ordinary crutches in ways you could never imagine).

Above all, however, I was stunned by the duo on bungee cords – two acrobats, each suspended by a chord in one hand, performing an airborne “dance,” for the lack of a better word. I lack the command of English to describe this piece adequately (ever dream of flying?).

With its vivid surrealistic imagery of possible worlds and objects unfolding throughout the performance at a lightning speed, Varekai celebrates the ever-wondering spirit of circus. If you feel that the life inside the HBS bubble is starting to constrain your inner gypsy, I strongly recommend renting a car and driving down to Hartford before the company leaves on October 16th.

Cirque Du Soleil

Dates: Now through October 16
Prices: Students $37-$63
Website: //www.cirquedusoleil.com

Directions: Mass Pike to I-84 West. Take Exit 50 (Main Street). At the light at the bottom of the exit ramp, turn right onto Market Street. The Cirque du Soleil parking will be on your right.

October 11, 2005
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