BY AMY ALLEN
The circus has come a long way since its birth in ancient times, when it was known as the place where Romans congregated to watch chariot races, gladiatorial battles, and fights with trained animals. From the 18th century through to 1972, it was all about lion taming, equestrian acts, and clowns. But today, the power and artistry of the human body is the star of the show.
Although it wasn’t the first contemporary circus — San Jose’s Royal Lichtenstein Circus and Australia’s Circus Oz hold that distinction — Cirque du Soleil is arguably the most successful of them all. Unlike the circuses of old, Cirque du Soleil focused not on the ringmaster and equestrian acts, but rather acrobatic prowess. Gone were feats of horsemanship and lion taming; in their place were stunts on the Russian swings and German wheel.
And its success has since paved the way for other circuses like it.
This summer, Ottawa plays host to two such travelling circuses, Cirque du Soleil included. Their acclaimed travelling show, Varekai, somersaults into the city, while New York’s Spiegelworld raises the big top for its newest show, Empire.
JULY 2 TO 5 The mythological story of Icarus, the young man who flew too close to the sun on wax wings only to plummet to his death in the sea, is the story behind Varekai. But in this imaginative retelling, Icarus doesn’t perish in the fall — he parachutes instead into a verdant forest full of mysterious and beautiful creatures, who guide him on an extraordinary adventure through the unknown.
With a cast of over 50 performers, the show consists of more than a dozen dazzling acts sure to ignite the imagination. As in the traditional circus, Varekai has clowns, baton twirling, and the trapeze, but here, the performers rely on their strength, agility, and flexibility to entertain.
Highlights of the show include a group of dancers who blaze across the stage in a frenzied routine inspired by resistance fighters of the Republic of Georgia and a trio of acrobats toss and catch each other as they create an illusion of skating brilliance. Woven between several of these acts, a group of clowns amuse the audience with displays of magic, wonder, and humour.
Adults: from $45;
Students, seniors, military: from $36;
Children aged 2 to twelve: from $25.
Visit canadiantirecentre.com for ticket information.
JULY 28 TO AUG. 23 In the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis, impresario Oscar is looking to rebuild his empire. With his fellow MC, Fanny, and a troupe of athletic friends in tow, he blends the circus with vaudeville, burlesque, and outrageous comedy in this spectacular show that has to be seen to be believed.
While Oscar and Fanny guide the show with their brand of crude humour, a group of buskers command the tiny circular stage in a series of mind-blowing acts that will challenge your understanding of what the human body can do. An acrobatic duo strapped into rollerblades defy both death and gravity as they swing each other around mere inches from the audience, while a man, concentrating so hard he drips with sweat, tries to balance a feather on a branch.
Meanwhile, a guitarist and a singer accompany each act with live performances of pop songs, and the bar at the back of the cozy spiegeltent (the Dutch word for “mirror tent”) maintains a steady flow of snacks and beverages, including absinthe. The tent — and the stage — is so small that you’re virtually guaranteed a good view no matter where you sit.
Please note: this show contains nudity and coarse language and is not recommended for children.
Regular seating: from $62;
VIP seating in first two rows: $135;
Two-seater cocktail table: $135;
Private booth seating: from $99.
Visit spiegelworld.ca for venue and ticket information.