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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 21, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 38
An interview with Cirque du Soleil's Darius Harper and Joey Arrigo
Arts & Entertainment
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An interview with Cirque du Soleil's Darius Harper and Joey Arrigo

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN A&E Writer

CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
'VOLTA'
MARYMOOR PARK
Through November 4


Darius Harper and Joey Arrigo are gorgeous. Their physiques are awesome. Their eyebrows are perfect. They exude talent, and they're having the time of their lives. Wouldn't you, if you were traveling the world in the coolest circus on the planet? Joey is the focus character in Cirque du Soleil's 'Volta,' now playing in at Marymoor Park, and Darius is one of two principal 'Volta' singers. As they unfold the story of Waz, a young TV host who feels his life is being wasted as the MC of the corny 'WOW Show,' Joey and Darius have the opportunity to show off what they do best - dance and sing.

Joey Arrigo is a prize-winning dancer and choreographer who worked in a previous Cirque show, as the Trickster in 'Kooza.' That successful performance won him the central role in 'Volta,' that requires tumbling and acrobatics as well as dancing. Darius Harper came to 'Volta' via a successful theatrical touring career, playing major parts in The Book of Mormon (2012) and Kinky Boots (2014). His powerful and expressive voice provides the important connective tissue to the transformation of Waz from an empty showman to a free-spirited, authentic human.

These two young performers, both still in their 20s, happen to be the only gay men in the production - though Joey mentioned a long list of backstage jobs held by members of the LGBT community. 'Volta' is practically run by gay men!' he told me. Both performers were delighted to be interviewed for Seattle Gay News. They said that SGN is the first LGBT news outlet to interview them - so it's a scoop!

I talked to them in the backstage tent attached to the grand chapiteau where performers enter and exit during the show. As we visited in the lounge area there were aerialists somersaulting on hoops and a trampoline artist ricocheting off a padded wall in the background.

Sharon Cumberland: So how is it, being gay in the circus world? You travel all over - do you feel comfortable everywhere the show travels?

Joey: Being gay in professional theater and in the circus is more common than in other industries. We get a lot of support, and I'm very proud to be in this company. But, as gay men we went through the same hardships that a lot of gay people go through - about who you are and learning to love yourself.

Darius: 'Volta' is about finding your freedom - finding your joy. We've been through this ourselves, but no matter where we are, people who come here know they're coming to a show. In life issues happen - but when you know yourself people don't mess with you.

SC: Cirque du Soleil is an LGBT-friendly place, then, I take it. How are they as employers?

Joey: They're great - we're really on the same page. They run the company on 'non-rules' - even after all our training you can improvise during the show - dancing is encouraged - changing things up -

Darius: But as a singer I find that consistency is what helps me the most. It's the difference between theater and the circus. Theater performance is really regimented and anxiety-riddled - you have to hit your marks every time. But the circus is very relaxed.

SC: I find that surprising - especially since circus people are doing things that are potentially dangerous. How can you be relaxed?

Darius: The circus isn't for green artists - everyone is really professional. Training is everything, but within that is the 'no rules' thing - you can be yourself and express yourself.

Joey: We got to give a lot of input as 'Volta' developed - the performers got to help create the story line. Bastien Alexandre wrote the show but we were all part of the team. It really evolved through the trials and got stronger and stronger.

Darius: Cirque du Soleil has a French Canadian character - we're all treated as artists.

Joey: [indicating himself and Darius] Yeah, and we're both those people! We belong in the spotlight!

Darius: Absolutely! I was born to be in the spotlight!

Joey: I knew what I wanted since I was eighteen. I said 'Girl, I'm ready!'

SC: But how did you make it happen? You can't just wish for it&

Darius: I grew up in humble circumstances in Nashua, New Hampshire - I was in the drama club and the chorus in school. We had a really good theater group outside of school, too - I got a lot of experience on stage and I knew it was where I was meant to be.

Joey: I don't know what circumstances I grew up in - what class we were -

Darius: That means you were rich.

Joey: [Laughing] I guess you're right - I grew up in competitive dance. It's an expensive hobby, but my parents were well off, and I discovered that I have a very flexible body and could do all kinds of dance - I was trained in the Vaganova style of Russian ballet -

SC: That's a very athletic form of ballet training, isn't it?

Joey: Yes - but I also learned jazz, contemporary - Bad Boys of Dance, Rasta Thomas - I loved all types -

SC: How did that turn into Waz in 'Volta'?

Joey: I went to an open audition when I was eighteen - there were about a thousand dancers at the start and only eighteen of us at the end. We were put into a talent data base, waiting for a call - and about eight months later I got the call to be in 'Koosa.'

SC: And now you're touring the country - how do you guys like Seattle? Have you had a chance to see the city?

Darius: What we like to do when we come to a new city is find the Gayborhood - so we went to Capital Hill and it was great! Everyone is so friendly!

Joey: Damn friendly - you pet everyone's dog - everyone talks to you -

SC: Did they recognize you?

Joey: No - they're just friendly! It's my favorite place in Seattle -

Darius: - but we don't get much chance to go there, or anywhere else while the show is on - we do so many shows a week that we don't have time to sightsee.

SC: You should try to see Pacific Northwest Ballet while you're here - it's great dancing and they're doing a Jerome Robbins Festival.

Joey: OMG! OMG! I love Jerome Robbins!

Darius: Let's go! When is it? [I get out my phone and look up the dates - nothing works for them. Their only day off is Monday, when PNB is also off - moans of disappointment.]

Joey: But at least we just got back from a two-week vacation - I had a chance to go to Japan to teach some classes - I went with my boyfriend -

SC: How hard is it to maintain relationships on the road?

Joey: It's difficult - but there's always Skype!

SC: What's the next step in a performer's career? Can you move up in the company? Do you want to move up in the company?

Darius: In theater, six months is a long time - you can't see yourself in five years. But Cirque has a program called Crossroads that will help you go to school or get a college scholarship. Some people have their whole careers in Cirque, but I've had a year of wondering if I should go back to Broadway. And then I ask myself why I should leave a company where I can be so myself - a company that's so humane. I'm happy here - I love it.

Joey: And that's what 'Volta' is about - finding a way to be yourself, to have the freedom of being who you are. It's something that means a lot to me as a gay person.

SC: Is that why the LGBT community should come to see 'Volta'? What do you want to tell the SGN readership about the show?

Joey: Tell them that it's full of naked men doing amazing things they will love to see -

Darius: Tell them HOT naked men!

So, SGN readership, consider yourselves told. Joey and Darius had to go off for more rehearsals and interviews, but I can guarantee that these two stars are HOT - though they don't perform naked. Yet Joey Arrigo and Darius Harper are perfect exemplars of the show they helped create. They are smart, sincere, talented, and - most of all - they are people who have worked to discover who they are, and have embraced the freedom of being themselves.

See Joey Arrigo and Darius Harper in 'Volta' at Marymoor Park through November 4, 2018. For more information and tickets, visit cirquedusoleil.com/volta.

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