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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 14, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 37
Cirque du Soleil presents 'Volta' at Marymoor Park
Arts & Entertainment
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Cirque du Soleil presents 'Volta' at Marymoor Park

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN A&E Writer

CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
'VOLTA'
MARYMOOR PARK
Through November 4


Cirque du Soleil has taken up it annual residence in Marymoor Park to the delight of Seattlites, Eastsiders, and people from all over the region who travel here to see what new surprises are in store. Just the sight of those beautiful tents - with their Renaissance cone hats draped in neon lights - is enough to get the heart thumping. And Marymoor Park itself is so lovely, so well organized for visitors, and so dotted with beautiful, full-growth trees that you feel as though you've entered an enchanted village where circus royalty is surrounded by an entourage of green courtiers in conifer robes. The magic begins even as you approach the parking lot!

But this is where the romantic soundtrack stops with a screech, like a needle scraping across a vinyl record - that classic sound of something going off the expected path, and not in a good way. For though 'Volta' has a lot to be excited about - and one of the best trampoline acts in the history of the world - the show in general has taken an earth-bound path that trades in magic for urban angst. The enchanted village turns out to be an asphalt basketball court in a dingy city. Great things can happen there - crazy BMX bike tricks, zippy tumbling runs, high-flying acrobatics, and (I kid you not) the best trampoline act in the history of the world. But where are the beautiful colors and the clever puppetry, the ingenious waterfalls or the fabulous costumes? Where's the sheer astonishment we've come to expect from Cirque du Soleil? Where is the cheerful optimism of a 'Luzia' or the ingenious machinery and fascinating narrative of 'Kurios'? Not, I'm afraid, in 'Volta.'

It's an interesting idea to build a show around supposedly urban sports like double-dutch jump rope, hip-hop, BMX cycling, and tumbling, but the risk is that you can go on YouTube and see city kids doing the same things - even better, in some cases - to the same throbbing electronic music that 'Volta' uses in this show. Another problem, for me at least, is that some of the sports are not urban - like Southern California's suburban bicycle motor cross (BMX) modeled on off-road motorcycle racing - a typically white-boy sport for people whose parents can provide them with bikes to modify. And if the sport is truly urban - like double-dutch jump rope, or hip-hop street dancing -it's the invention of black and Hispanic kids, as real urbanites know (I'm from NYC - I've watched black girls doing double-dutch for years). There are plenty of fine performers in 'Volta,' but as good as they are, I would have appreciated seeing a team of championship black girls doing double dutch, or some black and Hispanic street dancers doing hip-hop. Opportunity lost, Cirque people.

And if you have an act that you wouldn't find in an urban setting, like a woman doing acrobatics while suspended by her hair - it may offer the spectacular weirdness we've come to expect from Cirque du Soleil, but it won't fit into the urban theme of the evening. The story that is supposed to link the acts together is about Waz, the MC of 'The WOW Show' - a cheezy talent contest - who wearies of his phony life and longs for authenticity. The word 'volta' is meant to suggest transformation from the inauthentic by turning to the true self, which leads to freedom (the tag line of 'Volta' is 'Find your free.') Ironically, the costumes and high energy of the supposedly inauthentic 'WOW Show' are a lot more fun and fabulous than the supposedly authentic parts of the show that come later. Canadian dancer Joey Arrigo, who plays Waz, has the best costume of the evening - a solid gold suit with a golden wig of flaming hair. He vamps and struts with such style that he seems to be right where he should be - in the spotlight. If Brazillian Danilla Bim, the hair suspension dancer, had appeared at this point it would have been a big WOW! not only for her mesmerizing performance but for her fabulous costume (naked skin suit with a few sparkly flowers here and there).

Later, however, after Waz changes directions with the aid of a 'Free Spirit' on roller skates (...seriously? roller skates? A real urban spirit would use inline skates...) he never again returns to the fabulousness of Act I. He does a pretty terrific dance in Act II to express his sense of freedom, but nothing is quite as circus-like or exciting as 'The WOW Show.' I kept waiting for Waz to transform into something thrilling - maybe like the Running Girl in 'Luzia' who sprouts fabulous rainbow wings - but 'Volta' is stuck in an urban universe, so what we get is BMX bikers. It doesn't help that Waz's early love of BMX is expressed in a flashback when his mother gives him a bike - a duet between a ballet dancer and a biker. Hey - this is Seattle, home of the Pacific Northwest Ballet. We see the best ballet in the world every season. While the Mom was a good dancer, her routine was about as interesting as a barre exercise.

And while we're on the subject of choreography, the inauthentic world was represented by people in gray costumes called 'precision walkers.' I was looking forward to this part of the show because I love unison dance - whether it's the simultaneity of a corps de ballet or a team of street dancers who lock and pop together. Few things are as exciting as multiple dancers doing the same movement with the precision of a marching band and the complexity of great choreography. Think 'Swan Lake' or hip hop crews. But sadly, all these 'precision walkers' did was walk in a circle or in a block, holding up fake cell phones as though having a cell phone was inauthentic and gray-making. (I confess to a prejudice here - being from Seattle I think technology is as likely a source of authenticity and transformation as otherwise - so the premise of 'Volta' was a bit off for me.)

But now for the good news - and the reason why you should go see 'Volta' and decide whether I'm all wet or not. Singer and Broadway star Darius Harper escorts Waz though all his stages of change and accompanies many scenes with compelling drama and heartfelt, resonant singing. He was so good that he often stole attention from the performers he was backing up. But for my money, the biggest reason for you to go see 'Volta' is the 'trampowall' - like nothing you've ever, ever seen before. Six trampoline artists not only perform tricks by jumping up and down in the traditional way, but they leap against and through a construction that suggests the tenements of the inner city - a wall with windows - jumping on top, through, and under, often in patterns and sequences, looking like human popcorn. This was the only performance of the evening when I dropped my notebook, forgot I was reviewing and just gaped, open mouthed, at the most astonishing and wonderful performance of skill and joie de vivre in the entire show. It's the best trampoline act in the history of the world - and worth the price of the ticket.

I hope that in the future Cirque du Soleil will return to its successful formula - capable of multiple variations - of magic, enchantment, and wonder. We don't come to the circus to see what we can see on the street, or on You Tube, or in a dozen different sports venues. We come to be charmed, beguiled, and astonished. 'Volta' lacks charm, and astonishes only intermittently. But it's truly a Cirque du Soleil show, because when you are astonished - and there's a pretty astonishing strongman/unicyclist as well - you know you could only have seen it there.

'Volta' is performing in Marymoor Park through November 4, 2018. For more information and tickets, visit cirquedusoleil.com/volta

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