By Jane Recker
There’s a phenomenon that happens at Cirque Du Soleil: Volta where even the most uncoordinated, inflexible, upper-body-strength lacking of individuals can look at the performers executing impossible feats onstage and think, “yeah, I could do that.” After all, how hard can it be to swing in a 40-foot arc on a trapeze 20 feet in the air?
The answer is very hard. Any mere mortal attempting to do so would likely either send themselves careening into the crowd or just hang there grasping to the bar for dear life. But that’s the wonder of Volta: the acrobats are so deeply gifted that their apparent ease in performing their craft can lull any audience member into the position of armchair quarterback.
That is until what shall be described as the “holy shit” moment occurs. After a nice warm-up of performing handstands on a unicyclist or leaping backwards through spinning hoops, there comes a pivotal moment where the audience ceases to have any empathetic understanding of the physical prowess needed to achieve such an action. A man suspends his body parallel to the floor thirty feet in the air with one hand, a BMX biker gets air and flips his bike beneath him five times before effortlessly landing. It’s these miracles of human bodily potential that infuse a sense of magic into Volta, making the audience hold their breath and gasp in awe when performers somehow emerge unscathed from their skirts with death.
No act transports the audience in that way more than the hair suspension act. Right out the gate, a woman maintains a cross-legged position while she’s pulled up by a cable attached to her hair to elegantly float ten feet above the stage. The impossible happening before the audience’s eyes. And then the impossible further delves into the realm of fantasy. The woman begins to run in a large arc around the stage. Gaining momentum, she’s once again lifted into the air by her follicles to soar above the audience in a sprawling loop. The loop becomes smaller and smaller, until finally she’s spinning around nothing but herself, her neck whipping faster and faster looking like it’s about to break when suddenly she slows down and returns to earth. The audience applause is deafening.
For while these are trained performers, the risks they take are very real. There’s nothing stopping the hair aerialist from spinning out of control, the acrobats landing the wrong way and the bikers from gaining too much air. During the BMX finale, the audience gets a taste of the danger when bikers fling themselves against Plexiglas walls facing the audience with netting made of something resembling black dental floss as the only barrier to prevent audience mutilation should a biker hit a bump. As the bikers waterfall one after another into the wall, there’s an air of collective breath-holding as the audience contemplates whether death via Cirque Du Soleil is better or worse than being crushed by a vending machine.
This spectacle is given even more razzle dazzle thanks to the exquisite costuming of Emmy Award winner Zaldy Goco, whose garb has been worn by the likes of Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and the contestants of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Bright, primary colors adorned with sequins, ribbons, feathers and fringe give an excited, celebratory feel to the whole production.
While a success in terms of energy and entertainment value, Volta’s plot is unfortunately vague and disjointed. Infused with quasi-Trumpian dystopian undertones, the show’s overall theme is about finding and accepting one’s true self. Heartwarming, but it becomes convoluted when mixed with something called the “Mr Wow Show,” blue hair made of feathers and technology obsessed individuals in grey clothing. Still more confusing are the clown acts inserted in the middle of the show that serve only to break up what storyline remains and to kill the air of amazement created by the acrobats.
However, Cirque Du Soleil isn’t exactly known for its riveting, compelling plots, so the lack of one doesn’t take that much away from the show. Even the most stickler audience member won’t really care about lack of character development when watching another human being defy gravity and create art through the impossible.
Cirque Du Soleil presents “Volta” through July 6 at the Soldier Field South Parking Lot. More information and tickets are available here.