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Saturday, May 6, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Theater Review

Awe-inspiring aerial acrobatics

Seattle Times theater critic

Ever had a flying dream? Parts of the Cirque du Soleil show "Varekai," now at Marymoor Park, can be just as transporting.

In one glorious segment, a comely lad (based on the mythic Icarus) is suspended on high in a cocoon of white netting.

You watch awestruck, as the superb Russian acrobat Anton Chelnokov curls, stretches, flips and pretzels his body, and the net evolves from a prison into a sash, a swing and wings to soar with.

There are thrills and bedazzlements aplenty in "Varekai" to beguile kids and adults new to the Cirque du Soleil magic. And while this isn't the best show the Montreal-based circus juggernaut has brought here, returning fans can find much to delight in.

Cirque du Soleil's formula varies little in these globe-circling extravaganzas. Enter the big-top tent, and you're in an alternate universe of musical shamans, jabbering clowns and fantastical wildlife.

The enchanted realm of "Varekai" (a gypsy word for "wherever") is a gleaming tubular rain forest, teeming with fanciful reptilian creatures. Played by sleek-bodied dancer-acrobats garbed in designer Eiko Ishioka's bright magenta, electric blue, sunburst orange and green bodysuits, these phantasmagorical beings sprout wings, spikes and hanging tendrils galore.

To world-beat music, and bits of French, English and gibberish, the Icarus figure undergoes a rite of passage. But the eye-popping panorama and thrilling skill acts, not the wispy storyline, are what hook you.

Now playing

"Varekai" by Cirque du Soleil, Tuesdays-Sundays through June 11 at Marymoor Park, 6046 W. Lake Sammamish Parkway N.E., Redmond (off Highway 520). Tickets range from $24.50 to $70. VIP packages, with premium seating and other amenities, are $185/adults, $129.50/children under 13 (800-678-5440 or www.cirquedusoleil.com).

Cirque skims off the cream of world-circus acts. In "Varekai" the best of the best include identical Brit brothers with ultra-buff torsos (Andrew and Kevin Atherton), doing an aerial pas de deux while suspended from wrist straps.

A trio of Georgian dancers' lightning rounds of spins and knee drops are also thrilling. So are Irina Naumenko's supple, seductive body contortions, on stationary canes.

And for a red-hot finish, the Russian swings. These foreboding metal see-saw contraptions vault gymnasts up, up and away, to execute awe-inspiring midair flips and body twists, land on one another's shoulders, and bounce off vertical white tarps.

Cirque's clowns have been hit and miss recently. But "Varekai" boasts a pair of pratfallers (Steven Bishop and Joanna Holden) whose antics as a sleazy magician-crooner and over-eager helper are utterly hilarious.

A grumpy faun clown, and a bozo with a lightbulb for a brain, are not so funny. And more persistent.

Yup, "Varekai" does have slow patches, of clowning and spotty ensemble dancing. But just sit tight: The show will take off again.

Travel note: Cirque du Soleil's move from Renton to Redmond is fine, but if you're unfamiliar with Marymoor Park, do get directions in advance. There's no obvious signage from the freeway.

mberson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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