Cirque jolts the capital with Volta

Scroll down to continue

After a stop in Montreal, Cirque du Soleil's road show Volta set up shop in Gatineau for the month of August, at Zibi Site.

Story and images by Alex Tétreault

The show officially opened this week. I went to their final rehearsal Aug. 2 to take a sneak peak.

There was electricity in the air as the crowd took their seats for the show. It was an audience of all ages for the festivities — the latest big event to hit Ottawa as the city celebrates the 150th anniversary of the British North America Act coming into force.

Chapter 1

Waz searches for meaning

Scroll down to continue

Waz, performed by Joey Arrigo, is the main character of the story. He takes the crowd on a soul-searching journey.

Storywise, Volta reminds me of some popular dystopian tales about the future, not unlike Hunger Games or the Divergent series.

In the show, society is separated into three distinct castes. As explained in Volta press material, one caste represents the “everyman, city dwellers who have accumulated the dust of inertia over time.”

Basically, the huddled masses are too busy with the daily grind of life to do anything to change society. They have no aspirations other than to become the elites. Then you have the elites, “conformists who look down on the greys”, and finally, the free spirits, “real and genuine, always seeking to fulfill their potential and that of others.”

Does any of this ring a bell?

Cirque du Soleil, Volta, Gatineau, National Observer, August 2017
The greys compete on Quid Pro Quo, the most popular show in the land, for the chance to become part of the society's elite. Here they perform under the gaze of show MC Shood Kood Wood, played by Joe de Paul. One, Charlotte Sumian, just happens to take a selfie while at it. Photo by Alex Tétreault

In any case, the premise of the show is… a show, a television show where contestants—the greys, compete to become the next instant elite. The show is hosted by Waz, the ultimate elite, and his sidekick Shood Kood Wood, who serves as an MC (but pretty well the show’s clown).

We follow Waz as he experiences a crisis of conscience after the 1000th show, and he begins a dark descent that is fueled by doubts and a desire to reconnect with reality.

Will he bring the system crashing down with him?

Chapter 2

Colour, variety, and tips for those who go

Scroll down to continue

Perhaps it was inspired by the Harlem Globe Trotters? This part of the act sees free spirit Michael Van Beek skillfully control the basketball. He spins it on the tip of his toes, in stark contrast to the greys.

I’m no Cirque connoisseur, but I found the show entertaining.

The Cirque fully incorporates entire acts dedicated to emerging sports such as parkour, and other more well-known but still edgy sports, such as BMX and mountain bike riding, as well as roller skating. This makes for an eclectic mix of new acts alongside classic Cirque ones. The bright palette of colours and straight-up fun acts are bound to please the entire family, including the little ones.

Although, at $40 a ticket, the bill adds up quickly.

Here’s a tip if you’re in town and want to go see it: try to walk, bike or bus. You’ll avoid the ‘exit’ line-up after the show, and paying $20 to park if you do get a spot. The parking payment system is automated, so if you do drive, and do find a spot to park, you might also wait for a long time in a line up for the machine.

It is easy to walk to the site from downtown Ottawa or the Canadian War Museum. STO also has a special shuttle bus service from the Centre Robert-Guertin park-and-ride.

Chapter 3

Solid musical performance

Scroll down to continue

Volta has action, music and an avalanche of colours. The musicians were often on stage alongside the acrobats and other performers, with music written by French composer Anthony Gonzales of M83 fame.

Above, Will Lawrence plays guitar, accompanied—on air guitar—by Darius Harper.

Music is an integral part of the show. Throughout the performance, the musicians tend to share the same stage as the other performers. The music covers a wide range of styles, "from synth-pop to more melodic lines, from ambient shoegazing to waves of symphonic and orchestral sounds to which stirring choirs, brass and string textures were added."

It allows the performers to showcase the full range of their talent.

Cirque du Soleil, Volta, Gatineau, National Observer, August 2017
The musical arrangements cover a wide range of styles. Here Camilla Bäckman, on violin, provides the score to the ballet duo.
Chapter 4

Social critique

Scroll down to continue

Obviously, not many people go to see a Cirque show for a deep story.

But a well written and contemporary performance with a message is a bonus. The not-so-subtle critique of society—drawing parallels between the public’s obsession with reality television, tablets and smartphones, then stretching these out to near-dystopia—is refreshing to see in this format.

Chapter 5

The "OMG Girls"

Scroll down to continue

While the press was sitting up front, right behind us were rather loud teenage girls who were clearly having a great time.

They became known as the “OMG Girls,” and they were absolutely psyched at the end of the show when the performers got off stage and waded into the crowd — even more so when one of the stars leaned in for some high-fives.

I soon discovered that these screaming Cirque fans were part of an organized group.

I checked in with their chaperone, and it turns out that they were from youth centres across the Gatineau area, including La Pointe aux Jeune in Gatineau, Prévention César in Papineauville, Saga Jeunesse in Gatineau and Manijeune in Maniwaki.

I spoke with Anne Boutin, director at La Pointe aux Jeunes, who told me that Cirque du Soleil approached her unsolicited and offered 85 tickets to the rehearsal for the region’s youth centres. Ms. Boutin distributed them among the various youth centres.

"These kids would’ve never been able to afford this otherwise, and well, as you heard, it clearly made their day," said Boutin, who coined the "OMG Girls" nickname.

Chapter 6

Through the acts to the finale

Scroll down to continue

This trial rider, Trevor Bodogh, performs alongside BMX riders and a roller skate dancer for some balancing and acrobatic feats on the morphing stage, where beams of light rise from the centre.

Cirque du Soleil’s Volta, in Hull, runs until the Aug. 27. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but probably an evening you won’t forget.

After that, it moves to Toronto from Sept. 7 to Nov. 12, before moving to Miami and Tampa this winter.

Here are more sights from the act for your previewing pleasure.

Cirque du Soleil, Volta, Gatineau, National Observer, August 2017

Waz takes a look at his younger self and rediscovers the person he lost. This act is called an 'acro lamp,' where the performer, Pawel Walczewski, does aerial acrobatics hanging from a framed lamp by his arms. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Cirque du Soleil, Volta, Gatineau, National Observer, August 2017

A more classical act of ballet dancing, once again featuring Waz (Joey Arrigo) with Elena Suarez leading the duo. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Cirque du Soleil, Volta, Gatineau, National Observer, August 2017

These acrobatic ladders send the performers flying over the front row of the crowd. Photo by Alex Tétreault

The shape diving act is perhaps less harrowing than the rest, but still well performed.

Danila Bim is seen here performing her hair-hanging act. She is essentially hanging from her hair, while flying around the stage in ballet-like aerobatics.

And what’s a circus show without a good clown act? Shood Kood Wood is Waz’s sidekick and does his own soul-searching—but his journey may lead him somewhere else. Solid comedy from Joe de Paul.