Review: VOLTA (Cirque du Soleil)

Extreme sports inspire Cirque du Soleil’s new show VOLTA now playing in Toronto’s Port Lands

Cirque du Soleil has brought its signature big top back to Toronto. Following hot on the heels of last year’s Mexico-inspired LUZIA, the company is presenting its newest show VOLTA and if you’re wondering whether it’s worth springing for tickets to another Cirque show so soon; VOLTA holds some unexpected surprises.

VOLTA is a stylistic departure for the company. The show draws inspiration from action sports—y’know the kinds featured in extreme sporting events sponsored by Red Bull—and seems deliberately created to appeal to younger audiences with its vaguely TRON-like design aesthetic and pulsing electronic score by French EDM artist Anthony Gonzalez (aka M83).

If Cirque du Soleil isn’t your grandmother’s circus, VOLTA also isn’t your mother’s Cirque du Soleil. Don’t expect the usual line-up of jugglers, trapeze artists, or contortionists. In VOLTA, many of these staples of the circus are replaced by new acts like trial bike, parkour, and freestyle BMX.

While it features an impressive collection of acts, I’m more interested in Cirque’s ability to create beautifully-choreographed, artistic staging to frame the physical feats and in that regard I don’t think VOLTA is as polished as some of their previous shows. Writer/director Bastien Alexandre chose to create a story-driven show whereas most previous Cirque du Soleil shows simply riffed on a loose theme.

Waz (contemporary dancer Joey Arrigo) is a disaffected game show host who longs to escape the artificial trappings of celebrity and reconnect with his inner child. Throughout the show we’re hit with heavy-handed symbolism. VOLTA is a world populated by smartphone-wielding “Greys,” superficial, gold-clad “Super-Elites,” and Technicolor “Free Spirits.” Nothing about its message is delivered subtly and as a result, moments that are supposed to evoke emotion feel a bit too contrived to really resonate.

Another challenge specific to this show is staging acts from disciplines that have rarely been presented in an artistic context. Sometimes the creative team rises to the challenge like when they pair a BMX Flatland rider with a ballerina. The biker mirrors the dancer’s jumps and pirouettes to gorgeous effect.

The cast of Cirque du Soleil's VOLTA

However, at other times disparate disciplines are combined in ways that just create a cluttered scene and don’t make a lot of sense. A group of buff gymnasts swinging and flipping off gymnastic rings while two aerialists periodically drop down from bungee trapezes is oddly staged and doesn’t exactly make for the strongest Act 1 finale.

When the show does away with this sort of fussy staging and shifts focus away from the storyline, it really shines. For example, I loved the Shape Diving act where acrobats fling themselves like arrows through towers of hoop targets. It’s a high-energy crowd-pleaser and a pure joy to watch as the artists dance and encourage the audience to clap along to the music.

The cast of Cirque du Soleil's VOLTA

I was impressed by the staging of the Parkour act, it’s the first time I’ve seen free runners performing group choreography and the effect is truly exhilarating.

I also liked the BMX finale where the stage transforms into a full-sized skate park complete with transparent ramps to provide unobstructed views of the action as bikers fly through the air performing a jaw-dropping array of flairs, flips, and tail whips.

The cast of Cirque du Soleil's VOLTA

Tying all the elements of the show together is the music. I unexpectedly found myself really digging Anthony Gonzalez’s score. EDM isn’t a genre that’s particularly known for its theatricality and there’s definitely a video game-like quality to a lot of the music but it works surprisingly well; thanks in large part to the singers (Darius Harper and Camilla Bäckman) who create a human connection to the music and keep the electronic score from sounding too detached.

While the staging is hit-and-miss, I admire Cirque du Soleil’s spirit of adventure in bringing acts that have rarely been presented in an artistic context to the stage. The result is the freshest, most original new touring show Cirque du Soleil has produced in years. Full of vibrant, youthful energy, VOLTA should delight both new and existing Cirque fans.

Details:

  • Cirque du Soleil’s VOLTA is playing under the white and gold big top in Toronto’s Port Lands at 51 Commissioners Street (corner of Cherry Street) through November 26, 2017
  • Shows run Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 4:30 p.m. and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. No performances on Mondays. As it may vary, please visit cirquedusoleil.com/volta for the detailed show schedule.
  • Regular tickets $49 to $135 plus service charges. Premium and VIP packages available. See website for details.
  • Tickets are available at the on-site box office or visit cirquedusoleil.com/volta

Photos by Benoit Leroux and Patrice Lamoureux. Costumes by Zaldy.

2 thoughts on “Review: VOLTA (Cirque du Soleil)”

  1. I just saw Volta last night and I have to say it was one of the weakest I’ve seen. They could have done so much more with some of the acts, for instance the rope jumpers and the roller skater. Some of the acts were great , the acrobatic lady who hung by her hair and the bikers and the guy on the lamp shade…..all very beautiful and skilled in their performances. I found there were too many filler bits that went nowhere.
    Maybe they are pushing them out of fast . Usually they have a touring show every two years, this comes on the heels of last years Luzia. They probably could have used another year to develop this show more.
    Could be I’ve become jaded, having seen so many shows and have come to expect jaw dropping moments amidst moments of beauty. Having said this, I will go to the next show as they are truly entertaining and am always looking forward to seeing what they can come up with next.

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