“Cirque du Soleil” is French for “Circus of the Sun,” and anyone who has witnessed its jaw-dropping celestial acrobatics knows the title could not be more fitting.
Founded in 1984 in Montreal, Cirque du Soleil has become a worldwide phenomenon. Unlike traditional circus acts, Cirque performances tend to be intimate and nuanced affairs. Shows often contain fully fleshed-out story lines, elaborately costumed characters and stirring live music staged in carefully selected venues.
According to the company, three categories of shows will be touring in 2015: Two arena shows (eight runs or less per city), six shows under a big-top tent (minimum four-week stay) and 10 resident shows that run on a regular basis (most are in Las Vegas).
Regardless of the venue, Cirque du Soleil, winner of seven Emmy Awards, strives to create performance-art pieces. Not every city has the opportunity to host one. Sacramento, however, has featured a handful of them over the past few years.
And now, for the fourth time since 2010, Sacramento is set to entertain one of Cirque du Soleil’s arena productions – “Varekai” – at the Sleep Train Arena (with seven shows running April 9-12). The other three Cirque shows performed there include “Alegría“ (2010), “Quidam“ (2011) and “Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour” (2012).
Sleep Train Arena officials say partnering with Cirque du Soleil is a tradition the company is proud of and one they hope continues for years to come.
“‘Varekai’ will leave fans amazed by the artistic performances, intricate aerial elements, and creative storytelling,” Sleep Train Arena’s director of arena programming, James Rasmussen, said in an email.
With a different narrative than its predecessors, “Varekai” – which Cirque du Soleil translates from the Romani language as “wherever” – takes place in a rainforest and offers a new spin on the Greek legend of Icarus, whose makeshift wings melted when he disobeyed his father and flew too close to the sun.
Rather than plummet to his death, though, Icarus ends up landing on Varekai’s mystical terrain, forcing him to learn from its inhabitants how to fly again without his wings.
“For me, it’s very much a point of view through an adaptation,” says Fabrice Lemire, artistic director of “Varekai.” “(You’re) coming into a new society, coming into a new neighborhood, or like a parent saying to a child: ‘How do you learn to fly after losing your wings? Stand up and walk again.’”
Lemire says “Varekai” has been performed in more than 70 cities around the world since 2002, and that audiences will be impressed by what they see – although perhaps to varying degrees.
With stunts that include aerial-strap work, single-point trapeze, Russian swings and human catapulting, Lemire says some onlookers might be more wowed than others depending on their overall exposure and receptiveness to the arts.
“I believe it all falls back to the sophistication of the audience,” he says. “You know, a city with an opera company or a dance company or a theater company ... will look at the (Cirque du Soleil) shows differently than somebody who would just see that type of show for the first time. So it’s really based on the education of the community as well as the openness of the crowd. However, at the end of (“Varekai”), I can tell you everybody leaves the show – my shows – with a smile, and they’re happy with the experience.”
In addition to Cirque du Soleil’s awe-inspiring sequences, there’s another element that sets the company apart from the competition: the absence of live animals.
While Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus recently announced that they would stop using elephants in their performances by 2018, Cirque decided long ago that animals weren’t needed to tell their stories, Lemire says.
Instead, they have relied on the power of the theater to create new worlds and whatever creatures they want to inhabit them.
“This is the magic,” Lemire says. “It’s really just using the elements of a traditional circus and twisting it in a way that we are telling you a story with movement. And this is what makes Cirque du Soleil so special.”
What: Cirque de Soleil’s retelling of the myth of Icarus.
When: 7:30 p.m. April 9; 4 and 7:30 p.m. April 10-11; 1:30 and 5 p.m. April 12
Where: Sleep Train Arena (1 Sports Parkway, Sacramento)
Information: www.ticketmaster.com, (800) 745-3000