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The Point of Being Different 

The Cirque is back in town

Thursday, Sep 11 2003
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Varekai, the latest touring spectacle from Cirque du Soleil, opens September 12 at Staples Center. Andrew Watson is the show’s director of creation, and Violaine Corradi composed the music. (Watson is also director of creation of the Cirque’s latest show, Zumanity, which premiered in Las Vegas last month and received some notoriety for its explicit eroticism.) Watson started his career as a trapeze artist in 1984 Britain in traditional circuses, before touring with Cirque du Soleil when it first came to L.A. in 1987.

Born in Italy into a family of composers and musicians, at the age of 4, Corradi arrived in Montreal, where she studied drama and music. She has composed film scores and accompaniments to leading Quebec poets, compiled in the audio series “Poésie/Musique.”

Watson and Corradi spoke to the Weekly at the Figueroa Hotel downtown.

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L.A. WEEKLY: So, you’re back downtown. Has it changed since you were here in 1984?

ANDREW WATSON: Back then we performed in Little Tokyo, opposite the Atomic Café. It was pretty funky back then — artists’ lofts, people moving in — the start of what’s happening in downtown now. But I’m sure those same people can’t afford to live here now.

Is this the first time you’ve worked as a creative director at Cirque?

A.W.: Yes. I’ve worked as an artist, a training director and artistic director with various shows on the road — Alegria, Quiddam, Saltimbanco. This show took about 26 months to do. We started in October 2000.

 

I understand Cirque shows can typically start with music and develop from there. How about this one?

VIOLAINE CORRADI: [Varekai’s director] Dominic Champagne came up with this proposal of this universe where he wanted the spirit of the show to be. Then we pinpointed the microcosms of this universe, to determine the persona and identity of every number. We worked for a year before meeting with any acrobats at all.

A.W.: That makes the shows unique because everything has a reason to be there. There are no random choices. From a central inspiration or thought or word or picture or bit of music. The people on the creative team are inspired to research their own universes within a single one.

 

That sounds wonderful but rather complicated. What are the challenges artistically and practically in building a show like that?

V.C.: To me it’s always a little miracle that it all works out, that we find a symbiosis with the music and costumes and all. It’s more than finding a consensus, it’s merging together.

 

It sounds fairly democratic . . .

A.W.: No. It’s a pyramid, not a democracy. Everybody brings their ingredients to the table, but there’s one person who cooks them.

 

Varekai takes as its universe the Greek myth of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun and lost his wings. Any particular reason for that?

A.W.: It’s something very human. We all fall down in life in many different ways, and hopefully we have the courage to pick ourselves up. Very often that comes with the help of the people around us, in different ways — a kick in the butt, a demonstration of love. Though a kick in the butt can be love also. But the show is not necessarily about Icarus, it’s about having to face life again after you’ve fallen.

V.C.: We’ve all been through it, whether it’s a death or a loss, and the images we create here remind us of the beauty of brotherhood. One of the themes of Varekai is how the power of love can help a person transform or transmute. We provoke, we propose, we don’t impose. As creative directors we use an invented language, so you don’t understand what we say but you feel the sentiment.

A.W.: It’s a choice not to have words. [Cirque du Soleil] doesn’t normally have dialogue, because the moment you have dialogue, it tells the story, and you can’t evoke the right imagination inside of that.

V.C.: What we do have is poetry. We have poems being recited, in real language — Romanian and Spanish. They were translated for the show.

A.W.: Poetry evokes imagination as opposed to telling a story. I have so many albums at home from all over the world in which I have absolutely no idea what people are saying, and I’m sure it’s better I don’t know. I have my own feelings about what the song is.

 

What makes Varekai different from the eight other Cirque shows?

A.W.: For starters, it’s a different color. All the other posters for the other shows were black. This one’s in color. When [Cirque du Soleil president] Guy Laliberte asked me to go find a director and a team and make a show, I wanted to make a show with its own identity.

 

Reviews of Varekai have been mostly good, though critics have said it’s bolder and brasher and therefore less mystical than its predecessors . . .

A.W.: I would agree with that. It gets back to what Violaine said about brotherhood. In Varekai we’re a traveling people like the Romany Gypsies, a nomadic people who don’t have a very romantic life; we’re survivors, falling down and getting back up again. What Dominic wanted to do was a show that evoked forgotten childhood dreams, and adolescent dreams, with a different kind of energy. The rhythm in Varekai is so different from past shows — it’s more driving, more rapid. Like a teenager. A young adult world with a backbeat. It’s really represented in the music.

 

I hear that quite a bit on the album. Musically, was this very different to incorporate in a Cirque show?

V.C.: We had used this style before, but not as a whole identity. It’s like when you say “brash” — we have that element, but when you talk about the teenager’s soul, you’re also talking about fragility, a kind of searching. There’s some lyricism too.

A.W.: Yes, but I’m sorry, that Russian swing number — it’s driving. It’s like, you could be at a rave somewhere!

 

I’ve heard that many things in a Cirque show don’t get settled until the last minute.

A.W.: Oh, yes.

V.C.: I think that’s part of the excitement for the audience.

 

Structurally, other shows have been described as unfolding in more or less self-contained acts. Varekai has been described as something of a departure from that.

A.W.: It’s not that different in terms of structure. But it is different in terms of rhythm, which can bring a completely different feeling, that’s for sure.

 

Speaking of taking risks, Zumanity opened last month in Las Vegas. There’s a lot of buzz about it being the first adult-themed Cirque du Soleil show.

A.W.: It’s just another side of Cirque. Again, it’s totally different. It’s not a circus arts–based show. It’s more cabaret, a theater show. It’s going deeper into what we’ve always presented — sexuality, eroticism to a certain extent, love, romanticism. It explores what’s always been there.

 

Is Zumanity an expression of the way Cirque is, or is it also an expression of the way Vegas is, an adult playground?

A.W.: We’ve always wanted to do a show that wasn’t circus-based. Cabaret makes you put everything and anything on the stage, which is fun.

 

People are a bit concerned that Cirque du Soleil is moving away from its G-rated shows that everyone in the family can go see. Any validity in that?

A.W.: No. As I say, it’s just another side. There are albums and TV series and all sorts of Cirque projects out there, and this is one of them. Though I think it’s a really important show, because what we see in the so-called erotic market is not erotic at all — stereotypical men, stereotypical women. We’re always told what is beautiful, so you sit there and say, “Oh, I’m not very beautiful, am I?” So this show has all sorts of people, all sizes and personalities. The oldest people in Zumanity are 71 and 74. We want people to leave the theater feeling very good about themselves.

 

So it’s really about love? That’s not a euphemism?

A.W.: Right. It’s not just about a hunky man doing a striptease, though that is in the show. But it’s one element in a mosaic.

V.C.: The idea is to always look for that little avenue of, how can we do this different? Otherwise, it’s all pointless.

Varekai runs through October 19 at Staples Center. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 4 and 8 p.m.; and Sundays, 1 and 5 p.m. For tickets, call Admission Network at (800) 678-5440, or go online at www.cirquedusoleil.com.

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