Review: Volta transcends; Blossoms into dazzling display

The opening moments of Volta, the latest Cirque du Soleil production, evoke an all-too-mundane situation. If I’d wanted to get caught up in the tribulations of a TV game show’s competition and watch a batch of characters glued to their cellphones, I could have stayed home.

Fortunately, those nods to modern daily life quickly recede as Volta blooms into the kind of extravaganza that Cirque du Soleil fans came to see, and then some — an exuberant, postmodern hodgepodge of dazzling circus feats, extreme sports prowess, occasionally ribald skits and personal affirmation.

The 41st Cirque du Soleil epic, which on Thursday night began its nearly month-long run under the big top at the Zibi site in Gatineau, uses the story of a fantastically costumed character named Waz, who hosts the game show Quid Pro Quo on the planet Volta, as the skeleton of its narrative.

Waz, who opens Volta clad in gaudy, and even laser-emitting, golden armour as he strides through the audience to the stage, is challenged to overcome past humiliations and repression to assert his true self. His supporting cast along the way includes troupes of everyday rabble clad in grey rags, the more ostentatious and accomplished “elites” that the “grey” plebs aspire to become, and the brightly attired, and supremely acrobatic, “free spirits.” That’s not to mention Waz’s short-statured sidekick dubbed Shood Kood Wood, whose scene-stealing comic-relief antics offset Volta’s pop-opera pop psychology and derring-do.

Waz’s story is told much more through gestures, facial expressions, imagery, pomp, dance and even nostalgic video flashbacks than through words, although Volta does begin with some bilingual warm-up banter that breaks the wall between performers and audience. On Thursday night, Shood Kood Wood even fleetingly addressed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who went to the circus with his family and security detail.

Overall, Volta’s tale is more felt than followed, providing the production with welcome pings of emotional resonance to accompany its spectacle. Waz’s progress might not quite be Shakespearean in its depth, but it tugs at the imagination more than, say, a Jackie Chan film does.

Meanwhile, the production, which feels quick-moving despite lasting almost two-and-a-half hours with an intermission, teems with stunts and thrills that would do a Chan movie proud.

The much-touted novelty this time around is Cirque’s embrace of extreme sports, so that gasp-inducing displays of BMX biking, trial biking and parkour give Volta contemporary cred and youth-market appeal.

It helps immensely that the production is set to a potent electro-pop musical score that can be dreamy or rousing, and that featured singers and musicians at times stalk the stage and insert themselves into the action with compelling dramatic flair. All of Volta plays out on a captivating circular stage that seems intimately close to the most fortunate, seated-upfront audience members, and which generates continual surprises with its diversity of lights and physical configurations.

All in all, Volta’s a worthy night out, many steps up from the forgettable, formulaic TV programming that it takes as a point of departure. It’s even sufficiently moving and memorable to warrant a repeat viewing.

{ SOURCE: Ottawa Sun | }