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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: September 4, 2014

Cirque du Soleil’s primal “Varekai” on stage in Portland this weekend

Like all Cirque performances, “Varekai” is expected to dazzle with its costuming, lights and feats of human balance and strength. Check out the slideshow and behind-the-scenes video.

Written by: Bob Keyes

Kerren McKeeman figures she began laying the foundation for her career as an acrobat as an infant. She doesn’t remember it, but has been told she tried to climb out of her crib before she learned to walk.

Later, she climbed trees.

Today, the 29-year-old woman from New Hampshire stars as a single-point trapeze artist in the traveling Cirque du Soleil show, “Varekai.”

Cirque du Soleil presents the show at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland through the weekend.

“I was always climbing things,” McKeeman said in a phone interview. “For me, it was a way to explore and discover and see what was up there. I think it translated into a feeling of being free. Everyone finds things in life that make them feel liberated or untouchable. That’s what it’s like to fly through the air.”

“Varekai” imagines a primal, forested world at the summit of a volcano. A young man descends into the kaleidoscopic world, and begins an exploration that involves beauty, mystery, fantasy and adventure.

The young man represents Icarus of Greek mythology. He begins his journey innocent and vulnerable, but overcomes his fears as he encounters the creatures of Varekai and learns to love.

<3>Cirque du Soleil’s Russian Swing

“The story is about his transformation,” McKeeman said. “It’s not an easy journey for him. He struggles the whole way.”

McKeeman was born in Nashua, N.H., and grew up in Hollis.

As its name implies, the single-point trapeze is rigged to a single swivel point, allowing a performer to spin, swing and fly.

She began gymnastics at age 7, and five years later focused on acrobatics. She knew then she wanted to be in the circus. Her teacher, Jacqueline Davis, was a mime with a circus background.

McKeeman learned to juggle and ride a unicycle, and joined a local circus when she was 12.

Later she attended a Circus Smirkus camp, where she was exposed to aerial performance. “That’s when I really fell in love with being in the air,” she said.

She toured with Vermont-based Circus Smirkus from 1999 to 2003, performing in Maine each year during that time.

She’s been with Cirque du Soleil since 2010. She began with Cirque’s Las Vegas production of “O,” and joined the South American tour of “Varekai” as a triple trapeze flyer in 2012.

Early this year, artistic director Fabrice Lemaire encouraged McKeeman to develop a single-point routine for “Varekai.”

McKeeman created the act, which was refined and adapted to fit within the theme of the show. She’s on stage for about five minutes.

“I have a huge creative outlet up there,” McKeeman said. “It’s not like I am imitating something I have seen in other shows. I am still discovering what I can do, and it’s an honor to be doing it with Cirque.”

“Varekai” features about 50 performers and musicians. But that number is misleading. The show has hundreds of costumes, so it sometimes appears there are many more performers involved.

“Varekai” has been around since 2002. It premiered in Montreal, and has toured to 20 countries. This is the second time it’s come to Maine this year. It played in Bangor in June.

McKeeman isn’t sure how long she intends to tour with Cirque — or what she will do when she’s done touring. But she’s not through yet.

“I always say I want to keep doing it until the day it doesn’t inspire me,” she said. “I have a few goals in my performing career out there ahead of me, a few more projects out there in my future. I’m not done yet.”


WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 4 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 1:30 and 5 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Cross Insurance Arena, formerly Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland

HOW MUCH: $29.50 to $152;


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