Nearly 20 years after its founding, Cirque du Soleil has indeed, as the title of an early show put it, reinvented the circus--and perhaps inevitably repeated itself a few times along the way. But whereas Dralion (the Montreal-based behemoth's last local appearance, in 2001) focused on the pretty and dreamlike to sometimes languorously New Age effect, Varekai, directed by Dominic Champagne, is a muscular and swiftly paced showcase for the troupe's global array of artists. (The show's title means "wherever" in Romany, the language of the Gypsies.) The story, as is often the case with Cirque, owes a nod to Shakespeare in its stranger-in-a-strange-land-who-finds-love theme. An Icarus-like figure crash-lands in a fantastic and primeval world populated by anthropomorphic lizard people decked out in Eiko Ishioka's fabulously inventive costumes. Anton Chelnokov's man who fell to earth (who makes his descent in a thrilling aerial display that uses a net as a rope) falls in love with a fair Miranda-like creature (Olga Pikhienko, whose hand-balancing act late in the show is a highlight). But before the two lovers can be united, there's the requisite parade of aerialists, acrobats, clowns, and dancers--among them a trio of Chinese jugglers who whip metal balls attached to cables around their heads with cringe-inducing speed; the breathtaking Stephanie Gasparoli, who works solo on an aerial hoop; and Russian gymnasts who, in the show's climax, take flight from two huge metal swings and slam into canvas walls at the rear of the stage, creating a thrilling hybrid that combines Cirque's world of aerial poetry with the raw energy of extreme sports. United Center, 1901 W. Madison, parking lot K (at Adams and Wood), 800-678-5440. Through August 24: Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8PM; Fridays-Saturdays, 4 and 8 PM; Sundays, 1 and 5 PM; Thursday, August 14, 4 and 8 PM; no show Tuesday, August 12. $50-$70.