Cirque du Soleil
Presented by the Cirque Du Soleil by Dan Zeff
Chicago – Circus fans starved for Big Top entertainment since the demise of Ringling Brothers get some relief, at least through July 6, with “Volta,” the new touring Cirque du Soleil show at Soldier Field. At its best, “Volta” provides all the pleasures of a Cirque production at its best—knockout acts of grace, athleticism, skill, creativity, and danger. The show does have difficulties associated with even the best Cirque shows, namely a fuzzy book and unfunny clowning, but for most spectators the production’s plusses will outweigh the minuses.
To dispose of the criticisms first, “Volta” professes to tell the story of a young man named Was, a contestant on a television game show, who is struggling to find himself, presumably after a difficult childhood. The storyline is impossible to follow without some guidance, and the absence of a show program sets the viewer adrift unaided in a swamp of narrative murk. Even more annoying the absence of program notes denies the spectator, and the reviewer access to the names and backgrounds of the performers. The ensemble obviously has international roots, but otherwise operates in anonymity.
By the end of the evening, Was has found the liberation he sought, which should take a load off the mind of the audience.The clowning is provided by a buff young man who doesn’t look like a clown and dashes about and grunts a lot. I have seen dozens of Cirque performances over the years in Chicagoland and Las Vegas, all larded with clown acts, and they have all been tiresome fillers. A young woman dressed like a gaudy Native American periodically interacts on roller skates with Was, to no discernible purpose.
The rest of the news is mostly positive. The show does get off to a slow start with an unimpressive display of double dutch jump roping. The entertainment quotient then rises, sometimes to exceptionally high levels, primarily with acrobatic aerial acts, like a young man doing all kinds of difficult moves on what looks like the skeleton of a metal lampshade. Aerialists also perform on a giant revolving ladder and a number of men and women execute acrobatic turns while attached to wrist straps high above the stage, a fine example of strength and grace and risk (I didn’t see any safety cables attached to the performers during their high flying turns).
A few acts will be familiar to veterans of previous Cirque (and Ringling Brothers) shows. There is bungee jumping and young men diving through elevated hoops, and best of all, a spectacular act with a half dozen performers bouncing and leaping and twisting and turning to and from a trampoline. They move with breathtaking precision and ebullience and the audience ate it up. The show’s finale is an exhibition of BMX cycling performed at breakneck speed up and down two curved ramps, an act that should appeal to the younger element in the crowd.,
The opening night showstopper was a solo act by Danila Bim (I culled her name from researching earlier “Volta” reviews on Google). Bim is suspended by a cable attached to a topknot on her head. It looks massively uncomfortable and hazardous but the freedom of movement allows her to deliver a stunning display of airborn style and grace that had the audience shouting its approval. The act, called “Mirage” for some reason, is one of the most thrilling and artistic acts I’ve ever seen in a Cirque show.
Music has always been a major contributor to a Cirque show. “Volta” featured sumptuous recorded music mingling light rock with Third World and pseudo-classical sounds. The live music comes from a fine male vocalist and an excellent female violinist. The costumes are colorful and so are the special effects. The production seemed a little scaled down in size, but that’s doubtless a necessity for a traveling show. Physically, “Volta” still manages moments of spectacle and pageantry. The obscure storyline and the ineffective clowning may lessen the production’s comprehension for young viewers, and at least one reviewer, but the Cirque management clearly wants to appeal to teenage spectators, hence the action- packed BMX and trampoline acts.
The show is performed on a circular stage enclosed on three sides by the audience. The sight lines are unobstructed anywhere in the theater. The lobby outside the stage area offers a super abundance of souvenirs and food, and opportunities to take souvenir photos with cell phones, which were out in force.
The Cirque du Soleil has visited the Chicagoland area 25 times in the past 30 years. “Volta” holds up well with previous visiting editions, especially in its best acts and most glitzy visual effects. The storyline and clowning are what they are. It’s a sacrifice the viewer makes to get to the good stuff, and Danila Bim is worth the price of admission alone.
“Volta” gets a ranking of.
“Volta” runs through July 6 in the south parking lot at Soldier Field. Most performances are Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 1 and 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets begin at $49. Call 1 (877) 924-7783 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/volta.