BWW Review: Cirque du Soleil's Artistically Explosive VOLTA Celebrates Freedom as the Ultimate Achievement
Energetic, urban and contemporary, Cirque du Soleil's VOLTA, written and directed by Bastien Alexandre, with Jean Guibert as the director of creation, is a captivating voyage of discovery that showcases never-before-seen under the Big Top acrobatics in a visually striking world. Driven by a stirring melodic score and inspired in part by the adventurous spirit that fuels the culture of street sports, VOLTA is a story of transformation, being true to oneself, fulfilling one's true potential, and recognizing one's own power to make it possible. The production is perhaps the most acrobatic show ever staged by Cirque du Soleil, with acts from around the world offering amazing displays of roller skating, balance, trampoline leaps through windows to rooftop, Double Dutch rope skipping, tumbling, rings, and BMX bicycle flips that challenge gravity.
The name VOLTA refers to a sudden about-face, a change in emotion or idea often used in poetry. It also speaks to the jolt of energy delivered through the show with its electrifying feats of acrobatic wonder performed by artists from around the globe, decked out in stunning costumes designed by Zaldy Goco, famous for his work with Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefany and for TV show RuPaul's Drag Race. The show explores the themes of celebrating differences and unique qualities in a world where modern technology isolates people from one another rather than freeing them. Using the rise of the celebrity culture and reality TV as a subtext, VOLTA teaches us that the path to fame, is not necessarily the path to freedom.At the center of the story is WAZ, (the role shared by Canadian ballet star Joey Arrigo, South African Brandon Livanos, American ballet star Reed Tankersley, American Darren Trull, and Pawel Walczewski from Poland), once a young boy full of dreams and aspirations who has since slipped into the invisible doldrums of the GREYS. In search of love and acceptance, WAZ becomes a contestant on the MR. WOW SHOW to access the ultimate consecration: popularity. His quest becomes derailed when the part of himself that makes him unique and that he's been trying to hide is revealed to the world. It is only upon meeting the FREESPIRITS and in returning through the memories of his childhood that he once again comes in touch with who he truly is, and has the courage to show his true self to the world, blue hair and all.
The GREYS are the everyman, city dwellers who have accumulated the dust of inertia over time. Out of sync with their true selves, lost in the fog of misguided hopes, they fail to realize that happiness lies within. Like so many these days, they live their lives permanently glued to their cell phones and screens. And even when the GREYS wander through the audience aisles, they seem totally obsessed with their hand-held devices and never notice the world around them.
The FREESPIRITS, formerly GREYS, have escaped the everyday and now live in a world of color. They see through the outer appearance of people and embody the glorious acceptance of everyone, not bound by rules or expectations. Benevolent and life-loving; they truly care for others as they travel the world, collecting and sharing experiences. They are real, genuine and always seek to fulfill their potential and that of others. And what amazing gymnasts they are, celebrating their spiritual freedom with wondrous feats of mind-boggling, artistic teamwork.
MR. WOW (Russian clown Audrey Kislitsin decked out in golden glittery decadence) and his judges represent the collective judgement of society. MR. WOW however, as the executive producer and supreme judge, possesses the supreme veto - holding the power to make or break contestants. WAZ takes on the MR. WOW SHOW. He is here to impress the judges, wow the audiences, and take home the ultimate prize - popularity. After the amazing Double Dutch rope skippers showcase their talent, taking on a new dimension with a heightened level of acrobatic prowess. Artists perform single rope and double Dutch sequences (two ropes turning in opposite directions). With an urban, hip hop attitude, they tumble, flip, and perform handstand hops through the spinning ropes. When the act culminates in a breathtaking speed pass at full throttle, the two spinning ropes are just a blur.
ELA is the archetypal FREESPIRIT, decked out rainbow colors and ribbons, with a native American-style headdress that flows in the breeze as she circles the stage on roller skates. She sees the untapped potential in others and tries to rouse them from their apathy. She is there at the right moment for GREYS in search of a meaning in their life and to help WAZ set out on his journey to personal freedom and acceptance after the hurt he experienced on the MR. WOW SHOW. ELA is his connection to the real world - a spot of color in his bleak reality.
WAZ pulls out mementos from his treasure chest, i??nding pleasure in reconstructing his long-forgotten past. In a moment of calm introspection, WAZ remembers his younger self flying majestically in long sweeping arcs. Hanging on an Acro Lamp with his hands or feet, he swings and spins gracefully using the light to metaphorically illuminate the journey ahead.
As WAZ continues his journey, he encounters the Trampowall act, during which the FREESPIRITS playfully climb, dive and jump off the grey building that represents the monochrome city environment of the GREYS. They move about freely and completely take charge of this drab urban universe to do their acrobatics, jumping through windows or to the top of the building, which when turned, reveals the double-sided trampoline set. This act was truly breathtaking!
Other acts which dazzled and amazing the audience included a BMX flatland rider performing a riveting routine on his bike, who engaged in a pas de deux with a ballet dancer. Coming from disciplines that seem worlds apart, the two artists create mirror-like images in a mesmerizing synchronized choreography, letting WAZ see how those from different worlds can work together. A comical routine with two washing machines was somewhat funny, but lacked any of the artistic magnificence of the other acts in VOLTA.
Suspended from the bridge, eight top-level gymnasts on four sets of Swiss-style rings twist, swivel, and sway to and from on their apparatus in a high-energy celebration of WAZ's departure from the gameshow. Two articulated ladders attached to the edge of the stage on pivot points allow artists to climb, spin and execute acrobatic and artistic figures on the ladders in synchronized and alternating patterns. At certain points, the ladders swing out majestically over the audience, causing gasps of wonder and tons of applause.
WAZ continues on his journey and meets more fellow FREESPIRITS who engage in an electric, urban atmosphere as they tumble and jump through shapes, sometimes feet first, sometimes backwards, sometimes bent in half, even adding breakdancing and hip-hop-style moves into the mix. At one point, an acrobat missed his target and asked the audience for a second chance. And of course, when he succeeded, we all roared with applause.
Perhaps the most spellbinding artist of all was Vanessa Ferreira Calado from Brazil, who was suspended only by her hair as she levitated slowly from a cushion underneath her, then performed feats of flying wonder. This mysterious, sensual FREESPIRIT character then rose up above the stage, swinging back and forth or spinning like a top, all the while exercising her hypnotic power over all. Her solo performance convinces WAZ that the difference he used to be ashamed of is actually the very thing that makes him unique. He embraces who he is, his true identity, now ready to break free when his inspirational dance comes to an end. Julie Perron's choreography, which reveals not a dancer, but a free man, expresses WAZ's humanity, vulnerability and courage.
WAZ is now in control of his life and has been admitted into this community of life-loving FREESPIRITS. In a contagious spirit of celebration, and sure to be a California crowd pleaser, they let it all out and show their mettle when a full-blown BMX park is mounted on stage in front of the audience's very eyes for the breathtaking BMX finale as riders invade the stage to deliver a jaw-dropping, fast and furious performance of nonstop acrobatics on wheels. The riders go up the jump boxes and perform air tricks before landing and leaping off the ramps again, crisscrossing and spinning their bikes in midair in a spirit of brotherhood.
I could go on and on about how transfixed I was during the entire show, but words cannot fully describe the experience of being in the audience and seeing such incredible feats of wonder performed before your eyes. I encourage you to make your way over to Dodger Stadium and experience the wonder for yourself through March 8, or at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa from March 18-April 19.
Tickets are on sale by visiting cirquedusoleil.com/volta or calling 1-877-9CIRQUE (1-877-924-7783). Onsite parking at Dodger Stadium is $25 per car, separate from show admittance, with only the Gate A entrance off Sunset open for admittance. Or purchase the Hennessy Black VIP Experience package, which includes a cocktail reception with open bar and hors d'oeuvres inspired by the show, access to the best seats for greater comfort, complimentary parking and more!
Many thanks to the amazing production team, and additional performers not mentioned by name in this review, for such an artistically enchanting experience:
Bastien Alexandre - Writer and Director
Jean Guibert - Director of Creation
Bruce Rodgers - Set Designer
Zaldy Goco - Costume Designer
Anthony Gonzalez - Composer and Musical Director
Julie Perron - Choreographer
Martin Labrecque - Lighting Designer
Thibaut Duverneix - Video Content Designer
Jean-Michel Caron - Sound Designer
Anne Séguin Poirier - Props Designer
Rob Bollinger - Acrobatic Performance Designer
Philippe Aubertin - Acrobatic Performance Designer
Jaque Paquin - Acrobatic Equipment and Rigging Designer
Eleni Uranis - Make up Designer
Manon Beaudoin - Character's guide
Musicians/vocalists: Camilla Backman, Eric DeShan, Michael Gonzalez, William Lawrence and bandleader/drummer Benjamin Todd
Photo credit: Cirque du Soleil
VOLTA is Cirque du Soleil's 41st original production since 1984, and its 18th show presented under the Big Top. The company has brought wonder and delight to more than 190 million spectators in more than 450 cities on six continents. Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group has close to 4,000 employees, including 1,400 performing artists from close to 60 different countries. For more information about Cirque du Soleil, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com