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Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta’ a breathtaking, thrills-a-minute, heartwarming tale

Let’s simply say that “Volta” is one of the best Cirque shows in their repertoire.

The young Waz undertakes a powerfully moving journey of self-discovery in Cirque du Soleil’s “Volta.”
Matt Beard

It’s a peculiar sort of world we have, where you can be simultaneously wholly isolated and utterly without privacy. For those who can’t remember an era without internet, know there was once a time when you couldn’t be both of those at once. Cirque du Soleil’s “Volta” manages to evoke worlds both past and present, pre-internet and beyond, all while nudging us to ponder a planet where we’re perpetually linked in with untold networks of “friends” who are strangers. If that sounds scolding, pretentious and vaguely get-off-my-lawn-ish, know that “Volta” is joyful and silly and sublime.

Directed by Ron Kellum, “Volta” has everything: Death-defying stunts, dazzling beauty and a universal yet highly specific story that ends in triumph. Best of all, that triumph isn’t some saccharine nonsense. It feels genuinely earned.

“Volta” is far more deeply rooted in narrative – and in the fate of its leading player’s journey – than any Cirque show I can think of in the past 20-plus years. Let’s simply say that “Volta” is one of the best Cirque shows in their repertoire.

The visually arresting extravaganza begins with a scene that could be straight out of Netflix’s dystopian insta-classic, “Black Mirror.” We’re watching a reality talent show hosted by Mr. Wow (Russia’s Andrey Kislitsin), a literally gleaming figure who looks like the offspring of Serious Moonlight-era David Bowie, Elton John and “RuPaul’s Drag Race finalist Brooke Lynn Hytes.

Mr. Wow (Andrey Kislitsin) hosts a death-defying reality/competition show in the opening sequence of Cirque du Soleil’s “Volta.”
Mr. Wow (Andrey Kislitsin) hosts a death-defying reality/competition show in the opening sequence of Cirque du Soleil’s “Volta.”
Matt Beard

A contestant named Waz (Corwin Barnette) is lauded for his dancing talent, then mocked for the blue hair he’s been hiding under a hat. An aggressive regiment of people with cellphones barrage Waz, first with taunts, then with blinding camera-phone flashes. It’s a stylized scene that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who was ever bullied or ostracized, be it on Facebook or Twitter or in seventh-grade homeroom. Barnette makes Waz’s vulnerability heartbreakingly apparent; he doesn’t let the cruelty defeat the character. His journey from shame to pride is the through line within “Volta.”

As the cellphone gang moves away in lockstep, Waz is met by kaleidoscopic bursts of color and warmth (lovely work by lighting designer Martin Labrecque and costume designer Zaldy Goco) and singular creatures with fantastical abilities. As the acts unfold, so does a world of beauty, a place where things like blue hair are celebrated.

The multilevel “trampowall” troupe performs in Cirque du Soleil’s “Volta.”
Matt Beard

The king of this alternate universe is Mr. Wow’s alter ego (Kislitsin in a dual role), a clown whose adventures at the beach make you feel you’ve been tippling 100 proof giggle-juice at the swim-up bar. (In one bit, the clown’s battle against a trio of petulantly recalcitrant washing machines delivers not just a multi-faceted human character, but also a trio of equally nuanced appliances.)

“Volta” delivers big laughs, but it also doesn’t stint on the on the thrills and chills. There’s a “hair suspension” act (Brazil’s Danila Bim) that will make your hair stand on end and take your breath away. There are acrobats whose gymnastic abilities seem to defy physics, and aerial artists hurtling dozens of feet through the air, seemingly within a fingernail of disaster. There are marauding teams of BMX cyclists flipping themselves and their wheels through space. In one climactic number, aerial artists with hair the color of robin’s eggs circle each other like dragons in mid-air, careening out over the audience on bolts of silk. It’s the old adage — no matter where you go, there you are — manifested as a dare-devil ballet.

Sometimes, Waz’s journey leans into memory, as when a ballerina (Uruguay’s Rosina Gil) does a series of dazzling pirouettes while a blue-haired boy learns to ride a bicycle. Despite the fact that it’s clearly engineered to evoke maximum nostalgia, the scene isn’t maudlin. And if it doesn’t precisely embrace the truth of your own childhood memories, it reflects the kind of memories we all wish we could claim.

“Volta” provides a vivid reminder of the world’s impossible beauty. It is also a reminder about the saving grace of joyful individuality, even when — especially when — bleakness and conformity try to stamp out your mojo.

Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.

BMX is one of the thrilling acts presented in Cirque du Soleil’s “Volta.”
Matt Beard