“Volta” a Cirque du Soleil production

Volta is the latest touring show by Cirque du Soleil. It is the next logical step in the evolution of new circus, so much so that the word ‘circus’ itself is almost obsolete. Further and further in the past are the animal acts, the sawdust, the clowns, the ringmaster, and the legendary acts, wire walkers, flyers, and sharpshooters. Now it’s all about the plot (or theme), costumes, lighting, music, and stunts. What does remain is high-level skills, comedy, and the tent. But the most critical elements of circus and theatre-wonder and entertainment- are there in full force.

Our protagonist is the blue-haired teen, Waz, played by Pawel Walczewski of Poland, who seeks to find himself on an inner search. He is an artist, a dancer, and an acrobat. After winning a skills contest, his joy quickly fades as the temptation of the world of tinsel and glitter seeks to steal him away from his inner quest and temp him with sparkling prizes and endless compromises.

For example, he is tempted to stop doing anything himself and merely watch others on the phone (sound familiar?). The contrast between the phone victims, The Greys, in a depressing army of grey, and the doors, The Free spirits, in colourful costumes and energetic skills is stark.

Waz is tempted by the King of Quid Pro Quo, who runs a favourite TV show and lures the Greys to do his bidding like mindless slaves. They are motivated with the promise of becoming one of the Elites, but it soon becomes apparent that the Elites are slaves as well, only their clothes are better. So the success that they hope for is not their success, it is a ploy that feeds the mighty corporate King. To free one’s self from the vicious cycle of Grey to Elite and back is not to succeed, but to leave the system entirely to be a Freespirit?

Besides Waz is the comic and clownish Shood Kood Wood, played by American Wayne Wilson, whose related subplot follows his adventure on a trip around the world, initially at the bidding of his master, the King. The wonders he sees out in the real world enlighten him and motivate him to follow his path. He begins by packing his bags and washing his clothes, but the washing machines come to life and toss his stuff out faster than he can throw them in. He continues his journey around the world including to the jungle where a can of bug spray fills his face with gas. He also runs into a funky wise-man and some mind-altering berries that light up the stage in a stunning display of neon and argon.

Through these convergent journeys are some terrific and innovative variety bits. Double Dutch rope jumpers, girls on the bungee, guys on gymnastic rings (still and swinging), stunts on hinged dynamic ladders, and the spectacular BMX multi bicycle ramp finale.

And a unicyclist and a juggler! The unicyclist, played by Philippe Betanger of Quebec City, did all his stunts on a standard unicycle, no giraffe, no novelty yikes. But his skills were quite innovative, not the usual walking the wheel tricks commonly seen. So even the one standard circus prop was not used in a traditional routine. He worked with a partner, a colourfully outfitted dancer. She stood on his shoulders while he rode and he later managed to hold her above his head with one arm, combining unicycle with acrobalance.

In a later act the Freespirit juggler, Jennifer Marcus of Ft. Lauderdale, appeared. She was quite excellent and looked very much at home in the spotlight for her solo routine. She worked with one, two, three and four modified marching batons which were lit up with changing colour LED lights. With one and two she tossed them high and did acrobatic stunts under them including single and double one hand walk-overs. She also rolled them over her head and neck ala Natalie Enterling style. She kept three going in the shower and site-swap patterns and briefly did four with complete control and no drops.

Cirque du Soliel currently has 19 separate shows being performed in either a touring format, like ‘Volta’, or in a permanent ongoing theatre setting, like ‘The Beatles Love’, in Las Vegas. Volta is their 41st production.

Some jugglers of note that have worked with Cirque du Soleil are Viktor Kee in Dralion and Amaluna, Kyle Driggs in Paramour, Anthony Gatto in Kooza and La Nouba, John Gilkey in Iris, Quidam, Dralion, and Solstrom, and many others.

Cirque du Soleil is currently listed as the most significant theatrical producer in the world with over 5000 employees and revenue of $850 million. Not bad for a bunch of rag-tag hippies that started as street performers in Quebec in 1980 and formed Cirque du Soleil in 1984 by Gilles Ste-Croix and Guy Laliberte.

Volta’s Show Director is Bastien Alexandre, with Artistic Director, Jean-Francois Bouchard, and Creative Director, Jean Guibert.

Volta’s next stop is in Tampa, Florida, then to New Jersey, and then to Uniondale, NY where they will set up the tent outside of the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.

Raphael Harris was the proprietor of the Jerusalem Circus School for Children for over ten years. He has performed "Sir Juggley's One Man Circus" over a thousand times. He appeared in the Guiness Book of World Records twice and the Record Setters Book of World Records three times. He lives in New York.

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