Cirque Du Soleil's Volta Pits Free Spirits vs the Men in the Grey Rag Suits
by John Diliberto 8/1/2018Cirque du Soleil is the circus without animals which are replaced by acrobats of all types and highly stylized stage shows all scored with original music and performed by a live ensemble. There are Cirque du Soleil shows that tour all over as well as installation shows in Las Vegas and other locales. The latest touring show, which launched last year, is Volta, not to be confused with the Bjork album. It has two weeks left in a stand and the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in the western city suburbs, a new location for Cirque du Soleil shows here which in the past were staged in downtown Philadelphia.
Like all the Cirque shows there is a thin storyline, this time about an outcast boy, Waz, whose blue-grey feathered hair is mocked, causing him to lose his spirit amidst The Greys, a troupe of dancer/acrobats draped in identical grey rag clothes. They peer into their cell-phones oblivious to the world while marching in synchronized lock-step. In a reality TV comment, Waz becomes a contestant on the belittling, Mr. Wow Show, hiding his hair. Waz watches events on the Mr. Wow Show including acrobatic rope-skipping and double-dutch rope skipping. He performs a dancing fete until his freakish hair is discovered. But don’t worry, he’s saved by the colorfully adorned Free Spirits and in particular, their roller girl, Ella.
Once the Free Spirits arrive, the show kicks into high gear. Acrobats tumble while a unicyclist courses through the circular stage with a woman twirling around his neck and ultimately standing on his head. Like a lot of CIrque shows, it’s sometimes a sensory overload of action.
The most astounding act of Volta is the Trampowall, a nearly three-story construction of open cages with trampolines on either side. The Free Spirits bounce over, around and through this device in gravity defying stunts and dizzying choreography.
The other heart stopping act is the finale of BMX bikers in a staged BMX bike park with multiple ramps upon which they leap and twirl, performing tailwhips, tabletops, 360s and more. Sometimes it looked like triple axels, but on bikes. From my angle about 6 rows back it appeared as if they were going to plummet off the ramps at any moment but they never did.
The music for Cirque du Soleil shows have a formula, the same way Broadway shows have a formula. For Cirque it’s Yanniesque bombast, stadium rock guitar solos and a dusting of new age moods, all kind of Disneyfied. The world fusion score of Varekai by Violaine Corradi is among the few to deviate much. Anthony Gonzalez, the principal of the dream pop group M83, composed Volta’s music and he didn’t quite escape those constraints, but you could hear M83 elements in the rhythm loops and sonics and songs like “The Change” could very well have been an M83 song. There were some powerful wordless operatic vocals by Camilla Backman who also whipped out a beautiful electric violin solo.
I’ve seen three Cirque du Soleil shows before, Mystere, Kooza and Alegria. Volta doesn’t quite stack up to them. It was missing the aerial ballets Cirque is known for, really only a trapeze duo and the hairealist, a Free Spirit who is lifted by her top knot into the air where she spins like a well-proportioned top. The “street” aspect that is one of the shows conceits with the BMX bikes, baton twirling and jump-roping, grounds the show into acts we can see on TV or in the streets on a daily basis. But we don’t see aerialists or contortionists every day. I suspect this might be due to the death this past March of aerialist Yann Arnaud in a Florida production of Volta.I know that version of the show had additional trapeze and high-wire acts.
Yet, Cirque du Soleil still brings the magic. From a goofy mime fighting with washing machines to BMX insanity, Cirque du Soleil’s Volta creates a new world for a few hours.
Cirque du Soleil’s Volta runs through August 19 at The Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, 100 Station Ave, Oaks, PA 19460. Tickets and info here.