Cirque du Xtreme

While thematically uncentered, Cirque du Soleil’s BMX-adorned Volta still entertains.

In recent years, the Cirque du Soleil productions that pitched their tents at Marymoor Park boasted clear and distinct themes: Kurios delved headfirst into the steampunk aesthetic, and Luzia served as Cirque’s vivid tribute to Mexican culture. The new production, Volta (which runs through Nov. 4 at Marymoor), is about … umm … how colorful clothing is more freeing and bike tricks are rad? (That’s the best guess I can formulate.) But while Volta’s thematic thread is kind of haphazard, the company’s performative circus spectacle still manages to be consistent throughout.

Volta kicks off with the Mr. Wow Show, a vaguely futuristic (presumably televised) talent show that feels like it was pulled out of The Hunger Games universe (minus all the child killing). The proceedings are watched over by the robotic Mr. Show, who’s dressed like a Lady Gaga fantasy of C-3PO (fittingly, designer Zaldy Goco—who makes outfits for Gaga, Britney Spears, and RuPaul’s Drag Race—made Volta’s eye-catching costumes). After one contestant does a balletic modern-dance routine, the hosts remove his hat to reveal that he has blue anime hair made of feathers. Are you shocked!?! No? Well, you’re supposed to be for some reason. This coif is apparently bad and laughably mockable, and leads our blue-haired friend—the show’s de facto protagonist—to retreat to the streets. After avoiding people in drab gray garb (that looks like a cross between the Rebel Alliance’s fatigues in the Battles of Hoth and Endor) that stay glued to their phones in some grim Blade Runner-esque techno-dystopia, he encounters a wildly dressed red-headed woman on roller skates (think a more vibrant Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn). She’s a free spirit who allows him to open up. That’s essentially the “narrative.”

The blue feather-coifed protagonist of ‘Volta.’ Photo by Patrice Lamoureux

The blue feather-coifed protagonist of ‘Volta.’ Photo by Patrice Lamoureux

Now that all that nonsense is squared away, we can get to the actual circus acts. As with any Cirque show, Volta offers a variety of entertainment with peaks and valleys. Even the less thrilling acts—rope skipping, juggling, unicycle, dance (which leans balletic in this case, with a touch of Newsies)—still get the spotlight and are entertaining enough. For example, the first act clown segment—in which the clown battles three washing machines—is physical-comedy bliss, while his second act’s mime-centric “day at the beach” bit drags. Perhaps the most comforting thing about a Cirque show is if something doesn’t suit your fancy, you’re always minutes away from something completely different, and the live music—which in Volta’s case ranges from reminiscences of Enya to electronica and soaring film scores—always keeps things moving.

There are certainly a few standout highlights of the show: The trampowall acrobatics finds performers bounding up a two-sided scaffolding structure as the stage rotates; combining bungee performers with gymnastic ring routines makes for a great two-layered dangling vision; and the feats of tumbling through stacked rings (in this case, hexagonal ones) always acts as a crowd favorite. But the night’s most unique spectacle comes via Danila Bim and her hair suspension act. It’s an aerial rope acrobatic routine except she’s literally attached to the rope by her hair. Not only is there a serene power to her performance, it’s a marvel of hair and spine strength. Volta is not Cirque’s most high-flying show by any means, but that’s not the worst thing, as you’re not stressed about the performers’ safety (at Luzia there was a gnarly show-stopping acrobatic fall).

Haerials. Photo by Benoit Z. Leroux

Haerials. Photo by Benoit Z. Leroux

The one element that certainly sets Volta apart from its peers is bike tricks. There are two notable freestyle BMX segments during the proceedings. The first—framed as our blue-haired buddy watching old home movies—focuses on solo flatland tricks (i.e., bike manipulation on the ground without jumping, or sort of bike dancing). As opposed to much of Cirque’s air-based antics, it’s a grounded act, and one that really excels. Volta’s finale busts out the ramps as bikers throw down high-flying tricks ranging from tailwhips to flips. They might not go as big as X Games performers, but it’s plenty extreme considering the limited stage space and Cirque’s general audience.

While Volta is far from Cirque du Soleil’s most groundbreaking or thrilling show, as long as you can get past the lack of any thematic direction, it still makes for a good night’s entertainment under the big top.

Cirque du Soleil: Volta

Thru Nov. 4 | Marymoor Park | $39–$270 |

Tags: ,