Weary of awards season? Has it all begun to feel like a chore — the formalwear, the banquets, the screenings and Q&A’s, and a list of screeners that never seems to shrink?
For your consideration: a serving of electrifying live entertainment that will revive the whole family, “Volta,” from Cirque du Soleil.
From Jan. 18 through March 8, the Dodger Stadium parking lot will be home to the Cirque big top and “Volta,” an extravaganza of extreme sports, music, dance and comedy that the Chicago Sun-Times called “a vivid reminder of the world’s impossible beauty … and a universal yet highly specific story that ends in triumph.”
You want daring stunts? How about virtuoso BMX biking, roller-skating, Trampowall artistry, aerial wizardry — even an acrobat suspended by her hair? “Volta’s” artistic director Ron Kellum, a Broadway veteran who’s produced halftime shows for pro football games and worked on Cirque du Soleil’s hit “Kooza,” explains that the show’s mandate was, “Let’s go find acts that we’ve never seen before. Acts that are pushing themselves in ways that will thrill and inspire our audiences.” That’s why Cirque du Soleil bills the show as “A different kind of Wow.”
A company of 150 artists and technicians from 25 nations delivers just that, or so declared the Chicago Tribune: “‘Volta’ is thrilling because of the acts. Period. They’re all totally fabulous.”
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Yet this production has more on its mind than mere excitement. Things kick off with “The MR. WOW Show,” a cheeky reality-competition spoof where contestants vie to be designated “Wow” by the judges and audience — risking the dreaded “No-Wow” tag should they disappoint. A double-dutch rope-skipping trio — “last year’s winners”— gives way to elite demonstrations of juggling, Cyr wheel and ballet. Then one contestant, WAZ, emerges as the main character. WAZ is caught between two tribes, the “Greys” and the “Freespirits,” dramatizing “Volta’s” underlying theme of self-actualization.
“A lot of people who reach for these shows want to be instant stars,” explains Kellum. “And what we realize is, it can actually lead to a life of heartache and pain,” particularly when social media demands that everyone present themselves as happy and successful.
“Our goal is to help people understand that who they are is special enough,” he continues. “I think people walk away going, ‘Oh wow, I don’t need to be famous or travel the world. What I need to be is my most authentic self.’”
Revealing the characters’ true selves was a priority for costume designer Zaldy, a three-time Emmy winner who has created looks for some of the world’s most celebrated pop stars. Individualization, “Volta’s” hallmark, defines Zaldy’s work generally, and he knows Cirque wants his personal aesthetic, derived from the fashion world. “I always think of people in the audience going, ‘I don’t know where I’d wear that, but I want to wear that outfit,’” he explains. “Even if it’s absolutely insane … I always want to create desirability in my costumes, and in my clothes.”
The Greys are “buttoned-up … belted, lots of overcoats and layers, hats and scarves,” Zaldy says. Yet side slashes reveal glimpses of bright Freespirit patterns. “Symbolically, it’s hinting that the opportunity for freedom is there. It’s within you.”
WAZ’s journey is expressed through his clothing — he starts as a Grey but takes on colorful fabric as he discovers his identity. The Freespirits’ outfits incorporate found objects conveying “the free abandon of getting dressed,” while the BMX riders signal “ultimate athletic freedom, in all these electric colors.”
“Volta’s” electronic score, composed by Anthony Gonzalez (leader of the French electronic band M83), also separates it from Cirque’s other shows.
Bandleader/drummer Ben Todd says Gonzalez is “on the forefront of composition in terms of working on a computer, with synthesizers and layering up many different electronic sounds,” and the results are “incredibly diverse — a whole new genre, really.” The rope-skipping has “a dance club/electro/almost rave-party vibe,” while the bikers ride to heavy rock, and a shape-diving troupe works to “an electro-pop hit that wouldn’t sound out of place on Top 40 radio.” (The Washington Post approvingly called the score “haunting.”)
Todd says his stripped-down combo of just five players is able to make split-second timing adjustments should an artist change certain acrobatic movements or should an act require more preparation time. As a bonus, “We all have little moments where we can solo and put our own personality into the sound of the show, which is great.”
When all is said and done, “Volta’s” theme and its form are one and the same: the power of the individual human being. “The center point of our show is the artist,” Kellum states. “We focus on these amazing artists at the apex of their abilities, doing things that are unimaginable.”
It’s all meant to suggest that all of us, whether darting around on bikes, dangling from hair or just living our everyday lives, can do amazing things — if we but harness our will. “No matter what age you are,” Kellum says, “you’re re-inspired to be yourself fully, all the time. And who you are is good enough.” He proudly reports his elderly dad’s reaction: “My God, it made me feel like a kid again. But it also inspired me to keep going!”
Tickets to “Volta” can be purchased through www.cirquedusoleil.com/volta