Varekai astoundsFirst-timer bowled over by Cirque du Soleil performance.

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Georgian Dance photo by Patrick Bernath.

Exquisite, amazing, amusing, jaw dropping.

That was Varekai.

Now, that description might seem a bit effusive, but I have never seen a Cirque du Soleil performance. Friends of mine have raved on over the years about the Canadian company and the spectacular talent it employs throughout its many themed shows around the world.

And now, I’m hooked.

First, the experience of entering the atmosphere of the blue-and-yellow, pointy-peaked tents in the quiet, warm evening of downtown L.A. to find a small, circular seating arrangement around a single stage filled with an audience that is not the typical Barnum and Bailey circus crowd. It was as if I had entered a different cultural world-a variety of languages and ethnicities (mostly European it seemed) abounded.

While we sat, waiting for the show to begin, two ushers roamed through the crowd, grabbing circus goers’ tickets, directing them up, down and around to their seats, offering popcorn and flirting (they were later featured as the “clown” act). Meanwhile, onstage, creatures, or rather humans dressed in brightly colored, other-worldly costumes designed by Eiko Ishioka, silently crept and slithered through a background of very tall bamboo poles, about a hundred or more that shot straight up to the top of the tent. Several creatures shimmied up the poles, hanging, staring. (St├ęphane Roy designed the set.) Slowly, eerily, the floors and bamboo poles were filled with the creatures, some resembling lizards and insects, others fantastical beings coming from some imagination beyond.

What ensued was almost a nonstop parade of wild and truly amazing acrobatic feats- my favorite being two men with tightly compacted, muscular bodies dressed in what looked like pleated, black corset/tunics and tall black feather headdresses-Greek Gods maybe? The two, holding onto aerial straps, gracefully danced in the air, swinging, floating high, circling, coming down low, occasionally, seamlessly and simultaneously gliding to a landing, and then soaring back to the heights of the tent. It was mesmerizing.

Then there was the girl, the romantic interest in the story to the boy who fell from the heavens into this strange world, who bent her body into impossible positions, while at times on one hand atop a single pole that turned. Her body was perfect, graceful, the way she moved, enchanting.

All the performers were enchanting.

The music, composed by Violaine Corradi, perfectly enhanced the production.

Another favorite-four female acrobats, who slithered, twisted and glided around each others’ bodies as they hung high on a single-poled trapeze.

The story (which was bare -a boy falls to earth, falls in love with a strange girl creature and they marry) began with a Kramer-like character whose costume resembled a half potato that had sprouted green shoots from his waist. He was amusing,

and kept the otherworldly-

ness light.

The writer/director Dominic Champagne lampoons the current technological times with the Kramer character, who, enjoying the pleasant sounds of singing birds, is disturbed by the annoyances of cell phones ringing, airplanes flying overhead and other 21 century noises. Frustrated, he brings out a giant Dr. Seuss-like contraption and catches the sounds from the air, shoving them into one end of the machine, and out the other, the sounds have been converted to birdsong.

In place of clowns, Cirque employs a couple performing a lounge act, which was hysterical at times-one, when the slim, young man with slicked-back, black hair and a goofy grin attempts to suavely sing a song as his spotlight continually moves and he runs, quickly positioning himself when he finds the light again, acting as if everything were normal. He even ends up on the lap of an audience member, whose hair he pretends to slick back with his spit.

His assistant, a blond-haired, slightly chubby girl, dressed in a see-through pink nighty with large white underpants, clumsily assists him in his magic show, tripping and falling. At one point, she gets stuck in a tennis racket the magician used in one of his tricks, as she attempts the feat herself. One incongruous moment occurred later in the show when supposedly her head was blown off as she attempted to come up through one of the holes in the floor. It was as if the

director, Champagne, expected the audience would come to dislike the character for her repeated clumsiness and mistakes, when, in fact, quite the opposite happened. She charmed and delighted.

The acrobatic finale featured performers rocking and jumping high into the air off gigantic seesaw contraptions into a white-sheeted net. The performers would land three-high on each other’s shoulders-not always perfectly, but hey, you try it.

All in all, Varekai was awe-inspiring.

Performances in L.A. continue through Nov. 23. Varekai premieres in Pomona Dec. 4 and in Costa Mesa Jan. 16. More information can be obtained by visiting the Web site, cirquedusoleil.com. Tickets can be purchased by calling 800.678.5440 or online.