The Point of Being Different
Varekai, the latest touring spectacle from Cirque du Soleil, opens September 12 at Staples Center. Andrew Watson is the shows director of creation, and Violaine Corradi composed the music. (Watson is also director of creation of the Cirques 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.
L.A. WEEKLY: So, youre 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 whats happening in downtown now. But Im sure those same people cant afford to live here now.
Is this the first time youve worked as a creative director at Cirque?
A.W.: Yes. Ive 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: [Varekais 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 its always a little miracle that it all works out, that we find a symbiosis with the music and costumes and all. Its more than finding a consensus, its merging together.
It sounds fairly democratic . . .
A.W.: No. Its a pyramid, not a democracy. Everybody brings their ingredients to the table, but theres 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.: Its 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, its about having to face life again after youve fallen.
V.C.: Weve all been through it, whether its 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 dont impose. As creative directors we use an invented language, so you dont understand what we say but you feel the sentiment.
A.W.: Its a choice not to have words. [Cirque du Soleil] doesnt normally have dialogue, because the moment you have dialogue, it tells the story, and you cant 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 Im sure its better I dont 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, its a different color. All the other posters for the other shows were black. This ones 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 its 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 were a traveling people like the Romany Gypsies, a nomadic people who dont have a very romantic life; were 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 its more driving, more rapid. Like a teenager. A young adult world with a backbeat. Its 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. Its like when you say brash we have that element, but when you talk about the teenagers soul, youre also talking about fragility, a kind of searching. Theres some lyricism too.
A.W.: Yes, but Im sorry, that Russian swing number its driving. Its like, you could be at a rave somewhere!
Ive heard that many things in a Cirque show dont get settled until the last minute.
A.W.: Oh, yes.
V.C.: I think thats 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.: Its not that different in terms of structure. But it is different in terms of rhythm, which can bring a completely different feeling, thats for sure.
Speaking of taking risks, Zumanity opened last month in Las Vegas. Theres a lot of buzz about it being the first adult-themed Cirque du Soleil show.
A.W.: Its just another side of Cirque. Again, its totally different. Its not a circus artsbased show. Its more cabaret, a theater show. Its going deeper into what weve always presented sexuality, eroticism to a certain extent, love, romanticism. It explores whats 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.: Weve always wanted to do a show that wasnt 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, its 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 its a really important show, because what we see in the so-called erotic market is not erotic at all stereotypical men, stereotypical women. Were always told what is beautiful, so you sit there and say, Oh, Im 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 its really about love? Thats not a euphemism?
A.W.: Right. Its not just about a hunky man doing a striptease, though that is in the show. But its 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, its 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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