Every year, the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey circus would come to Binghamton, NY and my grandparents and I would make the hour long trek from Scranton to see it. I always looked forward to this pilgrimage to experience the latest offering of acrobats, clowns, animals, and the smell of freshly popped kettle corn. Each year the show was different, but the elements were always the same: trained dogs bounding through hoops, motorcycles racing around inside a giant sphere, loads of clowns prat falling out of a tiny car, and a parade of wonders marching around the circus tent. I know Cirque du Soleil is a far cry from the type of circus I grew up attending, but when I found out I was going, I couldn’t help but be taken back to the excitement of my childhood and started counting down the days until I was back under the big top. It wasn’t long until I was walking through the gates of an enormous tent in the parking lot of the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center for VOLTA, the latest offering of Cirque du Soleil.
Having never been to a Cirque du Soleil show before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. How much of the circus I grew up with was involved in this cultural phenomenon? Would I be able to understand the narrative that is peppered between death defying feats? And most importantly, is there popcorn?
Ultimate freedom comes with self-acceptance, and with the liberation of the judgement of others. Inspired in part by the adventurous spirit that fuels the culture of street sports, the show weaves acrobatics in a visually striking world driven by a stirring melodic score.
My first impression was the sheer magnitude of the Big Top that they had erected alongside the Expo Center. Held down by over 500 stakes, this massive structure is 167 feet in diameter and is about 63 feet high. Inside was equally impressive and featured a multitude of colorful lights, a VIP section, and fresh, warm popcorn (YES!).
The show opened with an exuberant and exciting showcase of talent, featuring a group of high stepping rope jumpers, a cyr wheel performer (a cyr wheel is a large ring of steel which the performer causes to roll and spin gyroscopically while performing acrobatic moves in and around the rotating wheel), and an energetic dancer named Waz who turns out to be the protagonist of the evening. As the show progresses we get glimpses into Waz’s memories and day-to-day life as he struggles with new found fame, finding his true potential, and accepting himself with all his differences, both physical and emotional. The narrative was accompanied by a beautiful score played and sung live on stage, captivating dancers, hilarious clowning, and remarkable acrobatic feats. The energy on stage was unbridled and endless.
The name VOLTA refers to a sudden about-face, a change in emotion or idea often used in poetry. It also speaks to the jolt of energy delivered through the show.
As Waz is transformed by fame and love, the audience is transformed by the relatability and power of his story and the incredible athleticism of the cast. VOLTA takes common activities like jumping rope, BMX biking, and trampolining to absurd heights, all the while reminding us of the true potential of the human body, mind, and spirit.
Cirque du Soleil’s VOLTA is an engaging and entertaining spectacle that leaves you pondering your own potential and wanting more. This is certainly not the circus I grew up with – its so much more.
VOLTA plays through August 5th at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks in Oaks, PA. Unlike events in the city proper, parking here is free. Tickets and additional information can be found at their website: http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/volta.