Dreams are alive at Cirque du Soleil ‘Varekai’

By John Benson


Believing in happy endings may be sappy rom-com fodder but that’s the spirit of the Cirque du Soleil arena show “Varekai.”

More specifically, that’s been the experience of Brazilian performer Raphael Botelho, who portrays the Limping Angel character.

“For me, it has always been a dream to be in [Cirque du Soleil],” said Botelho via email. “It’s a very important achievement (based on) the hard work that I was doing all my life in Brazil.”

That journey began when an 18-year-old Botelho started to breakdance. A few years later he joined an Algerian circus. Looking back, the performer said this acted as his formal education in the entertaining circus world.

Aside from dancing, he learned acrobatics, including the trampoline and handstands. Botelho was hoping to join Cirque du Soleil in 2006 when he had his first tryout but that opportunity didn’t arrive until 2011 with “Varekai.”

“They were looking for somebody to do this Limping Angel character,” Botelho said. “They asked me to make a video based on the character, which I did that with my wife. I was trying to mix all my styles. They called me few days later saying that I was approved.”

The brand-new production, which comes to Youngstown Wednesday through Feb. 16 at Covelli Centre, takes place deep within a forest at the summit of a volcano. Naturally, it’s an extraordinary world, which is where the Cirque du Soleil creativity and acrobatic magic comes to life.

The mysterious story finds a man parachuting into the shadows of a magical forest with fantastical creatures.

For anyone who has seen a Cirque du Soleil show, any attempt to understand what’s taking place or use logic is futile. You might as well just sit back and take in what is normally considered an amazing – if not unbelievable – adventure.

Take for instance the Limping Angel, which Botelho attempts to describe.

“He is an angel that fell from the sky into this volcano before Icarus,” Botelho said. “He lost his power to fly and had to adapt to the human condition on earth. And because of this new condition, he had to find a support – the crutches.

“He turns into Icarus’ nightmare because unlike these volcano beings that are trying to help Icarus to rise from his fall in a smooth way, he talks to Icarus in an aggressive and strong way. That’s what I try to speak with my body in this four-minute act.”

Granted it’s a Cirque du Soleil show but Botelho has high hopes audiences will find a true emotion and message from “Varekai.”

“To realize our dreams we must know that we’ll have many falls but we must keep dreaming and trying and having hope until the end,” Botelho said. “It’s not only in movies, soap operas or in shows that the happy end can happen. We must believe, always.”

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