TAMPA — Cirque du Soleil is back in town with a new show.
The Montreal-based company always puts on an extravaganza, splashing around color with the abandon of a toddler playing with paint buckets and a storyline several layers deep, the artistic skeleton upon which hangs marvelous acrobatic acts. Volta, which debuted last year, is no exception, but the concept and venue stand out for several reasons.
The experience in the massive tent the troupe uses in the rollout phase for its productions beside the Tampa Greyhound Track differs quite a bit from Amalie Arena, where shows usually land.
Here are five areas that make this Cirque visit stand out.
The air-conditioned tent, which looks like a castle with soft-serve swirl cone spires, establishes a mood not possible in an arena. Capacity is 2,500. Everything is closer, more immediate. With a lower ceiling, sounds from the crowd and the music have nowhere to go other than all around you, to intoxicating effect. There’s a lot of audience interaction, with clownlike performers racing up and down the aisles to a circular stage. One of them even helped himself to my popcorn.
Old and new
The show finds spectacular performances in traditional and nontraditional arts. Some of the most vicariously nerve-wracking moments come from BMX bicycle riders, specifically recruited for Volta, who fly up ramps and do somersaults and twists high above the stage, somehow managing neither to fall or collide. Another group of athletes, former street performers discovered in Japan, have turned jumping rope into a blur of motion set to a hip-hop vibe.
Against those relatively recent innovations, longtime trapeze artist Danila Bim executes the rarely performed circus art of hair suspension, which is exactly as breathtaking and possibly painful as it sounds. With wet hair meticulously tied around a metal ring, she elevates above the audience, swinging out over the crowd with arms and legs free to move. It’s a sensuous, unforgettable dance.
And what could be more traditional circus than a high wire act? It’s really okay that the performer has a safety wire attached to his waist. The thought of him falling is really horrible and besides, for at least half the walk he’s directly above the audience.
The name "Volta" represents the electricity of creation, of inspiration. But this storyline is less abstract than, say, Varekei, which was all about an enchanted forest in the pit of a volcano. With video to help in a mostly wordless narration, it stars a boy named Waz, who was born with blue hair and happy that way until he went to school and other children laughed. He goes on to become a popular game show host, but is lost inside. Volta is his journey to self-discovery.
Three groups define him along the way. The dronelike Greys from whence he came march past each other in ghostly columns staring at their illuminated phones, sometimes pausing to take a photo or a selfie. The gold-clad Elites (to which the Greys aspire) are obsessed with bling. And the multicolored Free Spirits rescue Waz from his disillusionment, ultimately renouncing his Elite status and reclaiming his blue hair. Along the way, they do balletic moves on roller skates and stand on the head of a unicyclist.
Cirque chose wisely in hiring Anthony Gonzalez of the French band M83 as composer and music director for Volta. Two singers, an electric violin and several other live musicians flesh out a mood that builds from lonely soul searching to jubilance and frenetic energy.
Midway through each half, the clown Shood Kood Wood provides a much needed breather. The clown reacts to cheers or laughter and playfully teases the crowd. It’s all part of a sense of warmth and friendliness that permeates the show — as Cirque’s organizers might say, an esprit de corps.
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.