Flashy stunts, sketchy story in Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta’

At the outset of “Volta,” the Cirque du Soleil show now under the big top in San Francisco, a lively host named Mr. Wow greets ladies and gentlemen with a promise they’re about to see the greatest talent show on earth.

A similar exclamation was laid to rest in 2017 with the demise of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, ending a century-old American tradition, which, in its final years, added extreme sports to its lineup of elephants and trapeze artists.

Interestingly, BMX bikers close out this edition of Cirque, which has street vibe stunts and ragtag costumes (by Zaldy Goco) apparently to draw in younger audiences.

“Volta,” after the ringmaster-reminiscent opening, serves up great feats set to electronic music and flashing lights as contestants in Mr. Wow’s game show perform: Five Japanese athletes in glittered jumpsuits speedily skip rope, even on their hands; Cambodian juggler Dina Sok dazzles; Bradley Henderson spins in a hoop; and Marie-Lee Guilbert balances on the head of unicyclist Philippe Bélanger.

Then comes the classic semi-comprehensible Cirque story (by director Bastien Alexandre). The hero, young blue-haired Waz (Joey Arrigo), a dancer on the game show, undergoes a transformation. Having apparently been mocked by automaton-like soldiers carrying cellphones, and later, newspapers, Waz meets healing free spirits, headed by a roller skater (Paola Fraschini), whose feather-like headdress uncomfortably references indigenous peoples.

Pawel Walczewski swings from a lamp in “Volta.” (Courtesy Matt Beard)

In his older incarnation, Waz has an exciting solo: Pawel Walczewski, who flies through the air on a hanging light fixture, is one of “Volta’s” multiple acts showcasing amazing aerial artists. A group swings on rings and bounces on bungee lines; Kia Eastman and Charlotte Sumian climb and balance on a hanging ladder; gymnast twins Andrew and Kevin Atherton powerfully balance on straps; and, to the audience’s particular delight, the scantily clad Danila Bim (in a flesh-colored leotard with strategically place jewels), spins on a rope attached to a bun atop her head.

Mr. Wow, Andrey Kislitsin, does double duty as a clown in both acts, in too-long solo bits involving washing machines and balloons that have little to do with the plot.

Story aside, as is the case with many Cirque productions — “Volta” is the 19th to hit the Bay Area in 30 years– the best acts are the heart-stopping group stunts executed by perfectly synced performers.

It’s worth the price of admission to witness gravity-defying, spinning bikers on ramps; bouncers on trampolines hitting the top of a building in superhero fashion and acrobats diving through strategically stacked hoops. They’re truly mind-blowing.

REVIEW
Volta
Presented by Cirque du Soleil
Where: Big Top, Third Street and Terry A. Francois Boulevard, S.F.
When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays-Thursdays, 4:30 and 8 p.m. most Fridays-Saturdays, 1:30 and 5 p.m. Sundays; 1:30 p.m. Dec. 24 and Dec. 31; closes Feb. 3
Tickets: $54 to $290
Contact: www.cirquedusoleil.com/volta
Note: “Volta” runs Feb. 13-March 24 in San Jose.

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