The Canadian-based circus
troupe Cirque du Soleil is not the stereotypical circus, with tigers jumping
through hoops and clowns in floppy shoes. Far from it: a Cirque du Soleil
performance is more like a cross between a modern dance recital, a gymnastics
exhibition, and a surreal fantasy film. Each performance has a loose thread of
a story, or at least a theme, which connects all its separate acts. In the case
of Varekai, the story begins when a young winged man falls into a
fabulous forest world populated by strange creatures.
Cirque du Soleil: Varekai
is visually very impressive. The world of this performance is a phantasmagoric,
surreal one, populated by strange beings who seem inspired by the creatures of
myth. Much more so than the other Cirque du Soleil performance that I've seen (Dralion), Varekai
has a cohesive visual feel, with the costumes, sets, and choreography all part
of a pleasing and harmonious whole. A few of the performances (particularly the
comic ones involving the modern-looking clowns) seem a little jarring as they
don't fit with the theme, but by far most of the performances are smoothly and
naturally integrated into the overall tapestry of the production.
The performances include a wide
variety of acts, highlighting both the physical talent of the Cirque du Soleil
performers and the creativity of the choreographers and designers. Some of the
highlights are the Icarian Games, with the performers doing amazing flips and
tumbles while braced on each others' feet; the Georgian Dance, with the
traditional Georgian style of dance adapted to the Varekai theme; "water
meteors" performed by three talented children; a beautiful "triple
trapeze" performance; and a number of other interesting performances,
including juggling, Russian swings, and a short hand-balancing act.
The cinematography is handled
well here, almost always giving an excellent view of the performances. The use
of changing camera angles is lively enough to add some visual interest but it's
never distracting, and some well-chosen instant replays are used to highlight
particularly impressive stunts.
Cirque du Soleil: Varekai
is a two-DVD set, packaged in a slim two-disc keepcase.
Varekai is presented in
an anamorphic widescreen transfer, at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Filming a live
performance certainly has its challenges, and the transfer handles them quite
well. The image looks excellent in close-up and middle-distance shots, though
longer-distance shots become blurry. Colors and contrast are top-notch
throughout the program, with the bright costumes and dramatic lighting of the
sets shown to good effect. The print is clean and free of noise and flaws. The
bit rate averages around 8 Mb/s, with peaks that go up to 12 Mb/s; the level of
compression varies, with quantization figures ranging from 6 up to 12, which is
very high. Overall, I'd say that this DVD will please Cirque du Soleil fans.
Three audio tracks are
included: DTS 5.1, Dolby 5.1, and Dolby 2.0 (which is the default). The DTS is,
unsurprisingly, the best choice, although the 5.1 track is also excellent. Both
the DTS and the 5.1 offer nice use of the surround channels and a rich, clean
sound; the DTS has a greater depth and fullness. The Dolby 2.0 is, in
comparison, very flat, although it is also a clean and clear track.
On the first DVD, the special
features section gives viewers the option to watch three different scenes with
multi-angle feature. This sounds great in theory, but in practice it's a flop.
We see the scene from one angle (above), with three other angles show in small
picture-in-picture boxes to the side. This gives us the opportunity to watch
the scene from a constant perspective, but the "above the performers"
angle is not the one that I'd have chosen for the standard angle; making things
worse is the fact that it's not possible to switch views. The alternate angles
in the small boxes cannot be selected as the main view, and even on my
big-screen TV, the images in the inset box are much too small to see any
The second DVD is entirely
devoted to special features. The first section, "Meet the Artists,"
is a collection of short introductions from the various performers, with each
giving his or her name, age, and place of origin. There are 14 sections in all,
grouped according to their act in Varekai, with five of them (the lovers,
hand-balancing, the characters, the Icarian Games, and the Georgian Dancers)
also including longer in-depth interviews with the artists commenting on their
work and experiences. A separate section of in-depth interviews is also
included, which focuses on some artists who are not represented in the other
interview section. These interviews are moderately interesting, somewhat diluted
by the liberal inclusion of clips from the show.
The next special feature is a
substantial documentary on the making of Varekai, "The Making of an
Angel." It runs 45 minutes long, and is in anamorphic widescreen. We get
interviews with the various people involved in the design and execution of the
performance, and we get to see the process by which the show goes from idea to
final product; it's quite a substantial piece and Cirque du Soleil fans will
find it very interesting.
A 23-minute preview for the television
mini-series Fire Within is the next special feature; this takes viewers
backstage to witness some of the struggles of the performers to succeed in
Cirque du Soleil. It's an odd piece, halfway between a promotional piece and a
stand-alone documentary. Lastly, we get several trailers: one for Varekai
and two for Cirque du Soleil in general.
This nicely presented two-disc
set of Varekai is a clear must-buy for Cirque du Soleil fans, with its
entertaining performance, solid transfer, and excellent selection of special
features. It's also a reasonable starting place for viewers who are interested
in seeing what the Cirque du Soleil is all about. Recommended.