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{Review} Cirque du Soleil’s “Verekai” Is a Marvelous Flight of Fantasy #Verekai

JavaGirl poses before seeing Varekai.What if things had turned out differently for Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sky with his wax and feather wings and ended up falling into the ocean? That spark of an idea is what brings “Verekai” to life as a vivid performance of song, dance, acrobatics and even comedy.

JavaGirl (9) and I watched the Baltimore premiere as part of the media last night and as much as I enjoyed the show, I especially relished watching the wonder in her eyes as she experienced it. We’ve seen many live performances together, but nothing is quite like a Cirque du Soleil show — the costumes are straight out of crazy dreams, the make-up is like none other, and the acts are amazing displays of human strength, flexibility, and beauty.

Set in a land of brightly colored, fantastical animals and a roaring volcano, “Verekai” begins by showcasing some of the marvelous creatures. What seems to delight the kids in the audience the most is how the performers interact with the manhole cover size holes throughout the stage. Performers pop up from them, drop down into them, and at times steam emits from the holes. Every shot of steam brought about peals of laughter.

Suddenly, a creature falls from the sky. It is Icarus, who instead of drowning in the sea after flying too close to the sun, falls into this magnificent forest. He is injured and his wings are removed. All seems to be lost for him, until he meets a creature known as The Betrothed. What follows is a love story as the inhabitants of the land ultimately conspire to bring these two together.

Just like the first time I saw a Cirque du Soleil show, my personal favorite was watching the aerialists, especially when they made heart-stopping, dramatic rolls with scarves, straps, or a net. A close second in “Verekai” is the acrobatics from the Russian swings to the hand-balancing on canes. Something I’ve never seen before was an act with a performer on special curved crutches — apparently this being also fell from the sky, but did not fully recover from his injuries, and he performs an acrobatic dance to show Icarus that there is life after falling.

There are more than 130 costumes in “Verekei,” all of them stunning, but my favorite is those of the Volcano Leapers. Hats are a big part of Cirque du Soleil’s costumes, but these creatures have a hat with a stone-like face on top, so when the dancers bend their heads, the hats become their faces. They are a wonderful personification of lava.

JavaGirl enjoyed it all (though noted she wanted more acrobatics in the opening scene), but I think if you pinned her down on her favorite element, it may have been the “clowns.” These clowns do not have white faces and red noses like other circus clowns, but are character actors who serve as comic relief throughout the show. JavaGirl especially enjoyed when they worked as a magician and assistant, but I think my favorite act was when the male clown, looking like a young Wayne Newton, has to chase a spotlight all over the arena during his song.

If you’ve never seen a Cirque du Soleil performance, “Verekai” is a great one to see! And if you have seen a performance, “Verekai” is likely to include the elements you love while still providing a fresh, exciting show. Either way, I recommend purchasing one of the programs ($20) to enhance your experience, especially if you have young children who might find it hard to follow the storyline. It is a deconstructed program — instead of a booklet there are a series of double-sided color photos of the show, with captions explaining what is going on, and a poster.

“Verekai” Locations and Tickets

Verekai” is in the metro DC area in two different venues:

Baltimore, MD
Royal Farms Arena
July 8-12

Fairfax, VA
Patriot Center
July 22-28

Tickets can be bought online, starting at $36 (prices go up for weekend shows). There happens to be a Living Social ad for the Fairfax performance. A quick web search for coupon codes may be worthwhile.

Disclosure: My family was given two tickets in the media section to watch the show. Writing a review was not required and all opinions are my own (or JavaGirl’s).

Space Shuttle Discovery Thrills Audience at Udvar-Hazy #SpotTheShuttle

Joy, patriotic pride, and sadness over the end of an era swept over me as the space shuttle Discovery whooshed over our heads while the kids and I stood with what felt like half of Northern Virginia at National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Tuesday morning. I wasn’t born until after the first astronaut landed on the moon, but I vividly remember (and was even invited to attend) the first shuttle launch. The 1986 Challenger explosion is a defining moment for my generation, and every launch that followed felt like an American triumph over tragedy, especially after the Columbia tragedy in 2003. We no longer naively believed that the shuttle was invincible after Challenger, and Columbia reinforced that. Space is still a wild frontier, with so much left to be tamed. Though there has been the International Space Station, the Hubble telescope, and the Mars Rover — to me, the shuttle program has been the iconic symbol of NASA. It is what I grew up with, studied, rooted for, cried over, cheered for when it rose again, and then struggled with the realization that we weren’t going to see another one launch. I can’t imagine not watching another one launching.

I pulled my kids out of school to watch today’s flight, and made a last minute decision to rush over to Udvar-Hazy rather than just watch from our front yard. The kids were reluctant to miss school, but once they felt — actually FELT — the air rush over them and saw the underbelly of the jumbo jet that gave it a piggyback ride to Virginia, they understood why I was so insistent. Miraculously I managed to pick the right spot to be directly under it for the first pass of the morning, directly under it, feeling so close that we almost felt like we could reach up and grab on for a ride. In fact, it flustered me so much, I pushed the wrong button on my new camera! I got off a couple of shots, but not the ones I should have!

 Space Shuttle Discovery Udvar-Hazy fly-by

Thankfully, we had two more chances for an up-close view.

 

Space Shuttle Discovery side view

Between flights, I had an opportunity to take some shots of the people who were trying to spot the shuttle.

 

There were people of all generations in the parking lot, including a grandfatherly gentleman who was also skipping school (“I told my geology professor I was skipping class so I could come here!”) He was clearly as giddy to be there as some of the kids. In fact, I almost think that the excitement factor racheted up in direct correlation with age. Though there were some grumblings along the political front about the future of the space program (one comment I heard, “JFK must be spinning in his grave!”), overall the crowd was united in how thrilled they were in being able to be this close to the action. It was the most well-run event and politely behaved crowd I have ever seen.

I’m not sure my kids fully grasp the meaning of this historic day, but one day they will, and they will thank me for understanding that sometimes, you can learn more out of the classroom than in it. In the meantime, they got to see the beauty of Discovery in the air, not once, but THREE times, hone their powers of observation, (When did the air traffic stop? When did the pacer plane come by? When did the helicopters sweep through, where did they hover? What clues told us when Discovery was coming back by and which path it would take next?) and feel the difference between watching an incredible moment and actually being a part of it.

Incidentally, one of the channels recently ran a series of programs that was co-created by Discovery Channel and NASA called When We Left the Earth: The NASA Missions. I found it so fascinating that I am going to purchase the DVDs and found you can buy them online at Amazon or at Discovery. I think these will help my kids help put today into perspective, and you may find them helpful for yours!

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Associate and have included a link to a product to Amazon.  If you buy a product on Amazon directly after clicking on that link, I may receive a small percentage of the sale. I do not track nor have a way of tracking who purchased what.

Encourage Their Inner Engineer

We cannot expose our children enough to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) – so run, don’t walk, to Discover Engineering Family Day at the National Building Museum today for a an opportunity to discover just how fun engineering really is. Last year my family made pop-fly devices (think trebuchets), tried to balance tennis balls on newspaper cones and attempted other feats of engineering marvels.

Near and dear to my heart, of course, is the exhibit by The Children’s Science Center, “Engineering in Motion: Physics Playground” which was recently featured at Udvar Hazy.

Additionally, cast members from the show Design Squad will be there demonstrating dance moves and electrical engineering behind a supersized dance pad every hour, on the hour. They will have dozens of hands-on engineering activities, fun design challenges, and lots of giveaways.  Also, the National Society of Professional Engineers will be offering the Design Squad (DS) activity, Pop Fly, where kids will launch a ping-pong ball into the air using a foot-powered lever of their design. At the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ booth (IEEE), kids can explore which materials conduct electricity with DS’s Electric Highway, build circuits that can be easily concealed with DS’s Hidden Alarm, and try out and be inspired by some homemade dance pads, like those created in DS’s Dance Pad Mania activity.  I LOVE Design Squad for the way it inspires kids.

Discover Engineering Family Day at the National Building Museum: MyFoxDC.com

 This event is free from 10 am to 4:30 pm today, Saturday February 18 at the National Building Museum,  401 F Street, Washington DC.  http://www.eweekdcfamilyday.org/