Theater Review: VOLTA (Cirque du Soleil)

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by Tony Frankel on January 22, 2020

in Extras,Theater-Los Angeles,Tours

PLENTY OF WATTAGE,
EVEN WITH AN OBSCURE STORY

Cirque du Soleil is back with its latest touring show, which opened last night, January 21, at Dodger Stadium. At its best, Volta provides all the pleasures of a Cirque production — knockout acts of grace, athleticism, skill, creativity, and danger. The show does have difficulties associated with even the best Cirque shows, namely a fuzzy book and not so terribly funny clowning, but for most spectators the production’s plusses will outweigh the minuses.

To dispose of the criticisms first, Volta — written and directed by Bastien Alexandre — professes to tell the story of a young man named Waz, a contestant who doesn’t win the Mr. Wow Show, a TV game show like America’s Got Talent. The storyline is fairly impossible to follow, and the absence of a show program sets the viewer adrift in a swamp of narrative murk. There are home-movie-style film clips that seem to say the boy has dreams to be something great, and a young woman dressed like a gaudy Native American periodically interacts on roller skates with Waz. But aside from egging him on to try something he’s (presumably) afraid of, she and the other acts serve no discernible purpose.

By the end of the evening, Waz has found the liberation he sought, which should take a load off the mind of the audience — his modern dance display, choreographed by Julie Perron, is stupendous. The clowning is provided by a buff young man who doesn’t look like a clown and dashes about and grunts a lot, but there’s little heart in his art. He vacillates between slightly humorous and tiresome filler, even as scenes in a problematic laundromat and at the beach hold promise. And know there is no discount parking if you buy ahead; get ready to dump a ridiculous fee of $25.

The rest of the news is mostly positive. The show does get off to a slow start with an unimpressive display of double dutch jump roping. The entertainment quotient then rises, sometimes to exceptionally high levels, primarily with acrobatic aerial acts, like a young man doing all kinds of difficult moves on what looks like the skeleton of a metal lampshade. Aerialists also perform on a giant revolving ladder and a number of men and women execute acrobatic turns while attached to wrist straps high above the stage, a fine example of strength and grace and risk (I didn’t see any safety cables attached to the performers during their high flying turns).

A few acts will be familiar to veterans of previous Cirque (and Ringling Brothers) shows. There is a cyr wheel, bungee jumping, and a Diabolo, or Chinese yo-yo. A spectacular act with a half dozen performers bouncing and leaping and twisting and turning to and from a trampoline move with breathtaking precision and ebullience and the audience ate it up. A favorite for the crowd was The Urban Jungle, which had artists tumble and jump through shapes, sometimes feet first, sometimes backwards, sometimes bent in half; when one artist knocked over a tall shape twice, it upped the excitement as we were really rooting for him to accomplish his goal. When he did, it was thrilling, not to mention a much-needed shake-up to the consistently perfect executions, which can create a sense of ennui sometimes.

The show’s finale is an exhibition of BMX cycling performed at breakneck speed up and down two curved ramps, an act that appeals to all ages — but especially youth. The opening night showstopper was a solo act in which a woman is suspended by a cable attached to a topknot on her head. It looks massively uncomfortable and hazardous but the freedom of movement allows her to deliver a stunning display of airborne style and grace that had the audience shouting its approval. The act, called “Mirage” for some reason, is one of the most thrilling and artistic acts I’ve ever seen in a Cirque show.

Music has always been a major contributor to a Cirque show. Volta features Anthony Gonzalez’s sumptuous music mingling light rock with Third World and pseudo-classical sounds. The live music comes from a fine male vocalist and an excellent female violinist, but forget picking up on most of the lyrics. Martin Labrecque’s lighting is some of the best I’ve seen in a Cirque show. Zaldy Goco’s costumes are colorful, but they look like a gallimaufry of Cirque costumes was digested by a giant and then thrown up on stage; Goco may have been going for whimsy and crayon-colors here, but it’s a misfire. The production is a little scaled down in size, but that means that there isn’t a bad seat in the house: The show is performed on a circular stage enclosed on three sides by the audience, so the sight lines are unobstructed anywhere in the theater.

The obscure storyline and so-so clowning may lessen comprehension for young viewers, but physically, Volta still manages moments of spectacle and pageantry that are sure to electrify you. Cirque du Soleil has visited Los Angeles about two dozen times in the past three decades; Volta holds up well with previous visiting editions, especially in its best acts and most glitzy visual effects.

photos by Matt Beard
costumes by Zaldy Goco

Volta
Cirque du Soleil
Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
(thru February 23, 2020)
OC Fair & Event Center, Costa Mesa
(March 18 to April 19, 2020)
for tickets and more cities and dates,
call 877.924.7783 or visit Cirque du Soleil

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