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Get charged up on Cirque du Soleil’s VOLTA

Real-life street performers take their show on the road with stunts that astonish and inspire crowds of all ages

When I was 10 years old, my parents took me and my brother to see the circus. We never went again, because my dad said, “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” That was of course before Cirque du Soleil, the extraordinarily unique circus that amazes beyond comprehension, time and time again. The newest show on tour, VOLTA, is no exception.

This high-powered BMX spectacular exhibition puts the X Games to shame. Vicariously living adrenaline junkies will not be disappointed in the death-defying triple flips and seemingly impossible stunts that these superhero-like performers execute, apparently effortlessly.

The vivid costumes, which look like the cast rolled in a bath of paint, glitter and feathers, perfectly suit this glam grunge gang of street performers turned circus pros as they dazzle and delight in a high-energy world of color, grit and technology.

Like all Cirque du Soleil shows, this one has a story, acted out in acrobatics, accompanied by a stirring live musical score and evocative, poetic vocals. VOLTA is a tale of transformation, about being true to yourself, fulfilling your potential, and knowing you have the power to make it possible.

The protagonist is Waz, a blue-feathered-haired young man, who longs for social acceptance, which he hopes to gain by becoming a star on the hit TV program, the Mr. Wow Show.

His big chance fizzles when his hat falls off, revealing his unique locks. He slinks off feeling embarrassed and defeated. He fades into life among the Greys, zombie-like city dwellers, faces illuminated by the glare of their cell phones, mindlessly trudging through life, disconnected from each other. Despondent, Waz retreats into himself, finding comfort in childhood memories. Then, Waz encounters the Free Spirits, a gang of life-loving individuals. He is lulled out of his comfort zone by the beautiful Ela, who guides him through his personal journey to finding himself.

The story is compelling, but you don’t have to follow the plot to be astonished by the show. If you get a program book, you can follow along with the various acts, such as, Rise & Shine, in which the performers demonstrate that, “a wall is not a barrier but a springboard.”

The set transforms into a giant framework of a wall of windows and compartments where wild and raucous street performers leap from the highest ledges onto a trampoline below, propelling themselves up the side of the structure, yelping and cheering each other on. It’s the kind of energy that makes you want to join them, as they float and sail past each other, in a choreographed yet chaotic bouncing party.

In Urban Jungle, gymnasts herald in Yaz’s awaking to his new self, as they of jump through hoops, diving, flipping and twisting their bodies to fit through tiny hexagonal rings, like a champion run off of Tetris.

For the kids, there was the crowd pleaser, the showy Mr. Wow, and his alter-ego, who entertained as the bedazzled host of his talent show, wowing the crowds by speaking only one word, “Wow.” He later made an appearance as the clown, who struggled to tame a laundry washing machine that has a life of its own.

Then there was Mirage, which was a cringy one-woman-suspended-by-her-hair act, expressing that one must live life on the edge.  While this was an impressive display, it was not enjoyable for me because all I could do was wonder if she was in pain.

All the acts build to a climax with Momentum, a celebration of spirit, freedom and bravery, demonstrated by real-life BMX street bikers. In this jaw-dropping fast and furious finale, riders invade the stage and fly overhead on a translucent half pipe, crisscrossing, spinning and somersaulting on their bikes in a spirit of brotherhood.

Amazing is an understatement to describe the experience. What is not surprise is that the bikers are genuine street bikers, recruited from city streets. The backstory from the cast is that at first they rejected wearing make-up, costumes and choreography, but as they integrated into the show, the bikers embraced the magic of the circus, and they became one with the Cirque du Soleil family.

The melding of energies and passion in VOLTA is evident. If it were simply a display of extraordinary tricks, it would be satisfying enough. Add to that a heart-felt storyline about the fulfillment of one’s true potential and liberation from the judgment of others, and you have a gripping and inspiring tale for the ages for the whole family.

Photo credit: Matt Beard. Costumes: Zaldy.