The word “volta” can translate from Latin as “sudden change.”
As the title of Cirque du Soleil’s latest touring behemoth, which arrives in Chicago on May 18, it aptly connotes a change — in location. For the first time in its local engagement history, Cirque will be setting up its familiar Big Top tent at Soldier Field’s South Lot for its nearly two-month run.
With the geography set, “Volta” hopes to capture Chicago audiences with its usual blend of circus artistry, acrobatics, dance, music, athletics, stunning costumes and visuals and, in the case of this show, BMX wizardry, all amid an urban landscape. There’s also a narrative about finding yourself and being true to who you are, free from the judgment of others. More on that later.
More than 40 performers are featured in “Volta,” and among them is Chicago native Kevin Beverley, a member of the shape diving troupe, and the understudy for the show’s main character, the wandering Waz. A graduate of the Chicago Academy for the Arts, Beverley says his circus “calling” came fast and furious at a young age.
Cirque du Soleil: ‘Volta’
When: May 18-July 6
Where: Soldier Field South Lot, 1410 Museum Campus Drive
Tickets: Starting at $49
“I was doing gymnastics competitively for a while as a kid when one of my friends switched to dance, and I followed him,” Beverley said. “I fell in love with the performance aspect of it. I liked being on stage, showing off, doing my dances. Then I saw Cirque due Soleil on TV and that was a big turning point for me, to see dance and theater and acrobatics and the makeup all come together as I’d never seen before. From that moment I knew what direction I wanted to go.”
Beverley, a student at Grayslake Community High School, transferred to the Chicago Academy for the Arts for his final two years of high school, where he could more fully study dance. He also took a class at the renowned Actors Gymnasium in Evanston, where he studied circus arts where he first studied acrobatics, aerials and rolling globe. Following high school graduation, he moved to Montreal, where he attended the renown L’ecole nationale de cirque (National Circus School) for an additional three years, eventually graduating in 2012 with a specialty in dance trapeze and a minor in Chinese hoop diving.
“Circus school was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done,” Beverley said, with a chuckle. “It’s circus classes from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the academics from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. — in French! It was grueling. At least we had Saturday and Sundays off.”
But Chicago came calling.
“Midnight Circus — I had no idea what it was,” Beverley said, of the Chicago-based circus troupe known for its neighborhood parks performances . “A friend of mine told me about them and I sent them my [resume] because in third year of school everyone is looking for jobs. They responded rather quickly. And I landed by first job. I worked on and off with them for two or three years. It’s a fabulous circus in the parks [experience]. You feel good doing their shows because you know you’re giving all the money back to the parks.”
In 2016, Beverley found his next job at Cirque du Soleil in Montreal, where he became part of the troupe just as “Volta” was taking shape.
“I minored in Chinese hoop diving in high school,” Beverley said, “but it took me two years to really master it because you’re not just flipping. You have to learn to deconstruct your flip in the air so that you pass through a hole in a hoop. You have to feel every part of your body as it goes through the hoop or you will hit.”
The “hit” is a mishap he and his fellow hoop divers sometimes encounter, when their precision-based routine doesn’t quite go as planned. Diving through fiberglass hoops that are spinning and stacked, there’s plenty of room for mishaps even at the highest level of cirque. Beverley likened it to juggling, where sometimes “you’re gonna drop, but they make it look good.”
“My favorite part about [shape] diving is that it really engages the audience. They want to see you succeed. So if you do hit, you run back and do it again and you can feel the applause. It’s an amazing experience when you miss a trick and do it again,” Beverley said. “In so many acts, if you make a mistake, you can’t do it over because you have music and precise timing to that music. In our act, the band follows us. So if we want to do it again, we can. … I’m teaching the audience to don’t give up.”
Which is also the message of “Volta.”
“‘Volta’ is all about super-high adrenaline — a high-energy show that incorporates urban [aesthetics] and lots of BMX, but at the same time there’s a very tender and humble story about becoming true to yourself. Accept who you are, love yourself. It takes a journey and people to help you along the way who help you understand that it’s OK to be yourself. The lead character’s life starts off in one direction, but through a series of events and other characters he breaks free and finds his true self.”