Review: Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta’ is electric

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Cirque du Soleil performers dazzle on the Trampo Wall in “Volta,” playing in San Jose through March 24th. (Cirque du Soleil photo)

There is something always so intoxicating about a Cirque du Soleil show, and for some reason, I was reminded of Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus as I watched. Now, not for one second are the two terribly comparable, but sitting and watching Cirque’s “Volta,” continuing its Bay Area run in San Jose’s Santa Clara County Fairgrounds from previous months in San Francisco, you are struck with how fresh and new the Cirque shows have always been. Ringling Brothers was a staple of family entertainment in the 20th Century and a spell in the 21st, despite the many controversies that followed them to every city. Cirque, with its footprint all over the world and a mammoth bigfoot print in Las Vegas, still feels so fresh.

The show begins with a palpable energy, getting the audience right in the middle of a futuristic talent show, led by the rubber-bodied Mr. Wow (Andrey Kislitsin). He is a charmer, with quick, staccato movements and a disarming charm that sets the evening on a fun foot. And quickly, some delightfully tame talents come forth, highlighted by some amazing double dutch jump rope.

When the talent show ends abruptly, a common theme of Cirque shows comes forward, and that’s the idea of isolation. Waz (Cory Barnette), the darling blue haired boy, is thrust into a world of cell phones and selfies, resigned to searching his surroundings with eager eyes as he looks for connection. He won’t find it in others necessarily – they are consumed with a connection that is much more static, phones lighting their faces with kindred worship.

Those others reflect the sad reality of today’s electronic and digital age. Kids are addicted to their phones, seduced by the instant gratification of a like or a view. The ability to take a selfie and filter yourself to perfection with approval waiting wirelessly in any part of the world is all-encompassing.

This is the world that Waz lives in. He is thrust in the middle of all this loneliness, pining and longing for a simpler time.

These storytelling components come together quite magnificently. Other staples of the show include delightful technical aspects – sharp lighting and haunting, pulsing music that accentuates the action.

But the strongest staples of the show are what makes it magical, and that’s the stunning performances from the worldly talents, who are fitted with stunning costumes from Emmy award winner Zaldy Goco.

Each performance helps to accentuate the theme of the show, and they are mesmerizing to witness. There is certainly a beauty in the way Pawel Walczewski swings through the air on the acro lamp, cutting through space like a knife slicing soft butter.

The air and how it is defied is a constant through line. Watching “Rise and Shine” performers as they viciously put themselves into trampolines and bounce to the top of a walled structure is a thrill a minute. And while one performer didn’t hit his target while shape diving through a spinning hexagon, this still moved the crowd because of their encouragement and the honesty of the performer. Unicycles, swiss rings and even a woman suspended by her hair just make you constantly say “Wow.”

But the most wonderful moment belonged to the one act that fuses the dream-like storytelling quality with the isolating narrative. One of the great bits of American nostalgia is the movie projector, the one where a family’s commentary serves as the soundtrack. It is stunning to watch Waz sit and stare into the flicker of light, watching he and his mother engage in a beautiful ballet on a BMX bike, the sounds of Cirque dripping with rhythmic longing.

These wonderful touches of detail are what give such a modern feel to Cirque du Soleil. For many years now, and for many years into the future, it has sharpened and will continue to sharpen our minds, opening ourselves up to new possibilities. While a ringleader might have sufficed years ago, our sense of entertainment and our belief in the impossible has evolved.

Thank goodness we are forced to put down our cell phones to take this all in.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

Cirque du Soleil presents “Volta”
The Word: A stunning exhibit of the human body’s possibilities with wonderful music and costumes.
Stars: 5 out of 5
Santa Clara County Fairgrounds
344 Tully Rd, San Jose, CA 95111
Running time: Two hours, 15 minutes including a 25 minute intermission
Through March 24th
Tickets range from $54 – $290
For tickets, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/volta

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