Review: Cirque du Soleil “Volta”

Cyclists from Cirque de Soleil: Volta (Contributed photo)

RECOMMENDED

Where: In the Big Top, Soldier Field South Lot, 459 E. 18th Drive
When: through July 6
Tickets: $49-$279
Phone: 877-924-7783

By ANNE SPISELMAN
Theater critic

If you are a Cirque du Soleil novice, the Canada-based mega-company’s 41st show, “Volta” will be a thrill a minute.

This is the 25th production to visit Chicago since Cirque started coming here three decades ago. As always, the circus acts are spectacular. Besides the stunning acrobatics and aerial work, this year there are street sports ranging from breakneck-speed double rope jumping to a heart-pounding BMX cycling finale. There also is a lot more contemporary dance than usual, such as a number called “Breakthrough” for American dancer Corwin Barnett.

Ensemble pieces include a tour de force on double trampoline, with the artists diving from a wall and springing back up again; an equally energetic turn on Swiss Rings and Bungee, and diving through floor hoops, which is called “shape diving.” On a more intimate scale, a duo of men perform an intricate aerial ballet on straps, a solo aerialist dances with a swinging Arco lamp, and pairs show off their acrobatic skills on both a unicycle and a very long ladder. Most astonishing of all is Brazilian Danila Bim whose specialty is dancing in the air suspended only by a wire attached to her topknot.

Written and directed by Bastien Alexandre, “Volta” also tells a story, but I found it virtually impossible to follow. It seems to have something to do with a youth who is mocked and ostracized because he has a shock of blue feathers in place of hair but who eventually finds himself, happiness, and freedom with the help of like-minded people and a mysterious girl on roller skates. Several of the artists—the duo on straps, the contemporary dancer, etc—are costumed (by Emmy Award winner Zaldy Goco) like this boy, so I assume they are supposed to be him at various stages in that journey.

The evening starts with what I guess is a futuristic—and rather nightmarish—talent or reality or game show led by a gold-spangled Mr. Wow, portrayed by Russian performer Andrey Kislitsin. This is where the youth, apparently named Waz, is rejected amid roller skaters, rope skippers, and precision walkers in a display that’s kind of disorganized and disappointing.

Kislitsin, the main clown, also has two extended routines that go on much too long, especially for those of us who aren’t fond of clowns and find it hard to decipher miming. One involves a trio of recalcitrant, oversized washing machines (or dryers; can’t really tell). The other is an afternoon at the beach with a ball, a boy, and his father (all invisible and represented by sound effects).

While “Volta” has a lush pop-music score by Anthony Gonzalez of M83, mostly sung by Eric DeShan, an elaborate set by Bruce Rodgers, eye-popping lighting by Martin Labrecque, and all the technological wizardry that money can buy, I missed a couple of things.

The variety of circus acts just wasn’t as great as in the past. There were no contortionists, no strongmen, no trapeze artists, no one on silks, no guys building and balancing on skyscrapers of chairs set at precarious angles. Not even any jugglers, who can be truly amazing.

The biggest annoyance was the lack of a program, though this is usually the case. A synopsis of the story would have been helpful, even if it’s still pretty lame. A list of the performers strikes me as essential, with profiles even better. Finding this information on the web site is no easy task.

Well, maybe next time.