CIRQUE DU SOLEIL’S VOLTA,Review
Since 1984, the Quebec-based Cirque du Soleil entertainment organization has become best known for imaginatively combining death-defying acrobatics with storytelling to creatively dramatize themes, as circus-meets-theater with a high-tech panache, international flair and savoir faire. My personal favorite is Cirque’s Love, a radiant ode to the Beatles I relished at Las Vegas. Toruk -The First Flight adapted elements of James Cameron’s 2009 special FX big screen extravaganza Avatar to a live stage performance. And so on.
But Volta, Cirque’s 41st and latest offering that’s now under the Big Top at Dodger Stadium, is - to paraphrase Shakespeare - “much derring-do about nothing.”
What little plot or story there is mainly serves as an excuse for a frenetic onstage orgy of extreme gymnastics which, according to press notes, is “inspired in part by the adventurous spirit that fuels the culture of street sports.” There is heaps of double Dutch jump roping, roller skating, ladder climbing, literally jumping through hoops (a sensation some viewers may identify with as they wade through much of this mostly less than stellar spectacle) which is called “shape diving” and an eye-popping spectacular bicycle-riding grand finale executed by performers from around the world. (Mystifyingly, the trendy-wannabe show omits any references to skateboarding, hover boards and - thankfully - pogo sticks, although there are some lame attempts at humor.)
To be honest, much of the above is pretty ho-hum, pedestrian and low voltage. After about 15 minutes, the two-hour-or-so show (this includes a half hour intermission wherein auds can purchase goodies at concession stands) finally comes alive with some of the aeronautics that is Cirque’s signature - call it “Upper Volta.”
Mostly loud, throbbing “techno” music - heavy on beat, short of melody and talent - is heard (although most of the musicians aren’t actually seen) throughout. According to Volta’s Senior Publicist, “The music is played live, but there are parts that are electronic samples and structures composed by L.A. based DJ Anthony Gonzalez (M83).” Finland’s Camilla Bäckman sings and plays violin. Volta also includes some projections plus during certain routines the discerning eye can espy colossal shadows cast upon the canvas of the Big Top, reminiscent of Sergei Eisenstein’s imagery in Ivan the Terrible.
Cirque is also known for its costumes and Volta’s garish, flamboyant apparel has, according to press notes, “been designed by Zaldy Goco, famous for his work with Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefany and for TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race.” With her multi-hued outfit bearing more colors than Joseph’s Biblical robe the free-spirited Ela is cute.
Volta’s various stunts are strung together by what passes for a plot or story. There is a “Mr. Wow” (Russian clown Andrey Kislitsin) who hosts a sort of talent show, as well as “Waz” (played by a variety of performers including South African Brandon Livanos), a blue-haired young man with a bad haircut called in press notes “a game show contestant” who seems to be shunned and mocked due to his weird hairdo and obsession with fame. According to press notes, this leitmotif deals with: “Authenticity as an antidote to superficiality.”
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Speaking of “authenticity” it’s possible that part of this storyline seems derivative of the 1948 movie The Boy With Green Hair, starring young Dean Stockwell as an orphaned lad who encounters problems because of his green locks. The RKO film was directed and written by Joseph Losey and Ben Barzman - who’d soon become blacklisted Reds living in exile in Europe to escape from the Hollywood Blacklist - as a commentary on racism. Perhaps one could say this aspect of Volta is a “homage” to The Boy With Green Hair? (You know what a “homage” often is, don’t you? It’s frequently French for: “rip-off.”) I don’t know if part of Volta is derived from The Boy With Green Hair but if so, that movie and its creators should be acknowledged in the show’s credits and press materials and Cirque should consider paying royalties to the Losey and Barzman families.
The hundreds of seats beneath the “grand chapiteau” were as crammed, crowded and uncomfortable as they were expensive. Fortunately, there were some empty seats in the row where my guest Skip and I sat and we were able to stretch out. The parking at Dodger Stadium is so egregiously overpriced that Angelenos should send the boys in blue back to Brooklyn and give Chavez Ravine back to the Mexican-Americans, etc., who were evicted in order to build the sports complex there.
Over all, this was by far my least favorite Cirque I’ve ever seen. I had a sensation that the company was just rehashing and cashing in on its brand name and having run out of truly inspirational ideas was simply tossing acrobatic acts together just to have something to present and profiteer off of. The “Washing Machine” skit reminded me of something one would see in a slapstick silent movie, which I enjoyed because I’m a film historian. But as previously mentioned, other efforts at humor like one about going to the beach fell flat and similar to most of the overall show, were mildly amusing at best. These clowns were mainly just “Cirque jerks.”
However, some of the trapeze and aerial stunts were genuinely thrilling and it is exciting to see what the youthful, human form is capable of. In particular, the hair suspension act was mind blowing and in keeping with the finest traditions of what we have come to expect from and love about Cirque du Soleil. It is so breathtaking that Brazilian beauty Vanessa Ferreira Calado’s hair suspension performance challenges my feeble ability to describe her follicle feat, but I’ll give it the old Hunter College try.
(Partially) clad in a revealing outfit the preternaturally athletic Ms. Calado appears to be lifted by a rope or cable attached to what seems to be her hair, and she is elevated aloft in the Big Top and twirls around far overhead as she performs a variety of acrobatics, sometimes doing so with eagle stretched legs. It is truly stunning and awe-inspiring to behold and quite sensuous. This exquisite athlete’s routine is anything but routine and gives whole new meaning to the term “a state of suspended animation.” Experiencing the jelly-limbed Ms. Calado’s sublime hair suspension alone is worth the price of admission to see Volta. She is the enchanting sorceress Circe of Cirque. (If you doubt me see Ms. Colado perform at another venue here.)
The not-to-be missed Vanessa Ferreira Calado is “hair today, gone tomorrow,” so to see her and Volta here’s info: Volta will perform under the Big Top at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles January 18—March 8, 2020 and at the OC Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa March 18—April 19, 2020. Info: cirquedusoleil.com/volta or 1-877-9CIRQUE (1-877-924-7783). Presumably because this show is so overpriced, to access actual ticket prices users have to repeatedly click numerous times on the site in order to actually find out how much this pricey show costs, but your faithful reviewer will save you the hassle. See here. The tickets range from $42 to $270 for a special package.
L.A.-based reviewer Ed Rampell co-authored “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book”.