It might be the biggest circus in the land with almost as many franchises as a fast food chain but Cirque du Soleil still feels like a circus. Varekai, the third to visit New Zealand, delivers just what a circus promises: a spectacular, often mind-blowing night of acrobatics and balletic beauty - without the politically incorrect stench of elephant pee.
Yes, it might lack a certain gypsy charm with its Grand Chapiteau and merchandising stalls. But it more than makes up for it with its well-designed concept and attention to detail. It's that artistically outrageous style that sets Cirque du Soleil apart from some of its kitschy competition.
Varekai, which means "wherever", embellishes the story of Icarus, the winged man who falls to earth. Only this earth is an enchanted forest where the creatures look like something out of Timothy Leary's imagination. They writhe up out of the stage, teeter precariously on large, gold bamboo-like poles or swing through the air, trailing swathes of fabric.
Varekai's narrative is a little more forgiving than the rather weighty themes of Quidam, the last Cirque show to set up its Grand Chapiteau here. And the lighter, faster pace works well, each act different from the last, with more emphasis on physical comedy.
Although much of the action is polished so finely that danger feels a mile away, it hangs together as quite a show. It manages to put a theatrical, sometimes balmy twist on classic acrobatic feats. The first is when the "Icarians" catapult one another through the air using their feet as springboards at dazzling speed. Or when the very flexible Irina Naumenko carries out a breath-taking display on hand-stilts that can only be described as part rhythmic gymnastics, part contortionism.
But the most amazing to watch comes in the second half, when performers dressed like fire are catapulted between two huge swings built from what look like spider legs. It's what a circus should be and what Varekai is: death-defying, mesmerising and bizarre.By Rebecca Barry Hill Email Rebecca, Reviewed by Rebecca Barry