Cirque du Soleil – VOLTA Debut in SoCal


Cirque du Soleil got its toehold in America, and arguably globally, in SoCal in 1984 as part of the LA Olympics Arts Festival. I recall scanning the listings of events, and being drawn to ‘a circus unlike no others, with no animals.’ I attended the debut in a parking lot in downtown LA, and like everyone in the audience, my jaw dropped steadily through the performance. Word quickly spread and it was the hot ticket of the Festival. After the entire 1984 Olympics was over, Cirque du Soleil decamped to Santa Monica and leveraged the astounding word of mouth and soon filled performances on the pier.

Over the years I have steadily added to the list of performances I have seen: in San Francisco, New York, Orlando and of course back in Santa Monica and inevitably in Las Vegas. I have even toured the Cirque du Soleil headquarters in Montreal, being introduced as a guy who saw the first performances in LA in 1984. When I was in the offices of Guy LaLiberté, I coyly asked about a photo I assumed existed, and was pointed to a corner where sure enough there was a photo of LaLiberté and George Harrison at a Formula 1 racetrack. That is where the two hatched the plan for a Beatles production, which George sadly never saw. The resulting LOVE is still selling out in Vegas years after its debut.

So, with each successive Cirque du Soleil production I am cautiously optimistic that the evolution will deliver a satisfying experience.

In the case of VOLTA, the production does not disappoint. As with most every other production, we have a wide-eyed everyman who wanders through the variety of acts, slowly discovering a fuzzy message of wonder, inclusiveness and awe. (In the case of productions based on the art of others – Beatles, Elvis, Michael Jackson – the everyman premise is understandably subsumed).

Acro Lamp, for instance, is a VOLTA highlight. An aerial artist flies in long sweeping arcs from a thick rope. Hanging on with his hands or feet, the performer swings using the light to metaphorically illuminate a journey. In another sequence, shape divers roll, tumble and jump through shapes, sometimes feet first, sometimes backwards, sometimes bent in half. The live musical accompaniment blends breakdance and hip hop flavors. The audience was on the edge of their seats as the shapes grew higher and smaller. Still, the acrobats were able to dive through in synch and without causing the shapes to fall.

In one of the few instances where Cirque du Soleil references modern technology, the VOLTA set included ersatz TV screens, which reflected a sort of reality show or talent show theme. Mr. Wow was the MC, bringing forth each successive act. Ela was the rollerskating free spirit who caroused through several introductions.

As with all the Cirque du Soleil performances, colors and thoughtful lighting maintained a coherent theme. The handmade costumes were equally impressive.

After many many decades, Cirque du Soleil continues to scour the world for unique performers, weaving them into a compelling performance. VOLTA is no exception, it is a stunning continuation of the original vision.

Tickets available for San Diego performances through May 5; further information here.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.