“VOLTA: FREEDOM IS THE ULTIMATE RUSH”
Texts from the Press Kit & More
Edited By: Ricky Russo – Atlanta, Georgia (USA)
On April 28, 2017, Cirque du Soleil presented in Montreal the world premiere of its latest production, VOLTA. Last issue I remarked that normally I’d be walking down the cobblestone-lined pathways of the Jacques Cartier Pier in the Vieux Port of Montreal with a couple-thousand Québécois in celebration of this feat. But not this year. It just wasn’t in the cards (or the budget). Although I was unable to attend the premiere of VOLTA with fellow fans and friends of Cirque du Soleil as I normally did, thanks a dear friend I was able to get a little more insight into the show through the texts printed in the show’s programme book. Since sharing that text with you last time, Cirque du Soleil released the full PRESS KIT for VOLTA, which has a lot more information about the show’s scenography, costumes, and, of course, acts within it.
Here’s what we know now…
In poetry, the volta, or turn, is a rhetorical shift or dramatic change in thought and/or emotion, and with this latest creation, Cirque du Soleil is pushing the boundaries of circus arts by integrating several action sports disciplines, presented for the first time on its stages, including BMX acts, Parkour and BMX Flatland. Inspiration for VOLTA was drawn from the spirit of adventure that pervades the world of action sports. Whether they are on a bike, hopping from rooftop to rooftop, or barreling down a mountain, action sports enthusiasts constantly challenge themselves and defy convention.
VOLTA tells a spellbinding story about the freedom to choose and the thrill of blazing your own trail. Inspired in part by the adventurous spirit that fuels the culture of action sports, the show weaves acrobatics into a visually striking world driven by a stirring melodic score. VOLTA is a story of transformation. It is about being true to oneself, fulfilling one’s true potential, and the power of the group to make that possible. It celebrates freedom as a movement. VOLTA also explores the themes of self-realization and alienation in a world where technology often isolates people from one another rather than freeing them. Using the rise of the celebrity culture and reality TV as a subtext, VOLTA is an allegory on the flip side of fame and the search for authenticity.
WAZ, a popular gameshow host, has lost touch with his inner self in the pursuit of fame, pulling others in the trap of instant glory. But as doubt sets in, WAZ is enlightened by childhood memories as he encounters ‘free spirits’ who open doors to his inner soul he has long kept shut. On his high-voltage search for meaning, will WAZ find the courage to relinquish his fame, reconnect with his true self, and shine bright?
THEMES AND INSPIRATIONS
Action sports and the spirit of adventure – The creators of VOLTA drew inspiration from the spirit of adventure that pervades the world of action sports. Whether they are on a bike, hopping from rooftop to rooftop, or barreling down a mountain, action sports enthusiasts constantly challenge themselves and defy convention.
Authenticity as an antidote to superficiality – VOLTA explores the themes of selfrealization and alienation in a world where technology often isolates people from one another rather than freeing them. Using the rise of the celebrity culture and reality TV as a subtext, VOLTA is an allegory on the flip side of fame and the search for authenticity.
Quid Pro Quo – WAZ is the host of Quid Pro Quo (QPQ), the most popular gameshow on TV in the world of VOLTA. Every week, everyone tunes in to watch contestants scramble for a chance to become instant celebrities. In order to be transformed into ELITES,
2 contestants must first compete against one another in a trial of skill. When the 1,000th episode of QPQ begins, WAZ’s life is about to take a sharp turn.
SET & STAGE – A BREATHING, PULSATING WORLD
Stone, light, mechanics, and the human element are the bedrock of VOLTA’s story. And VOLTA’s stage (which affords the audience a 240-degree view of the action), has a pulse and life all its own. In a heartbeat, it can turn from a dark, stone-dead quarry into a cathedral of light! From the dynamic acrobatic Parkour act to the high energy BMX, Trial and Flatland numbers to the Highline and Wingsuit evocations, the performances in VOLTA require a complex array of state-of-the-art, meticulously designed acrobatic equipment and rigging.
THE LANDSCAPE – a granite quarry – looks like it was mined out of a gigantic rock. It is a manmade, geometrically variable environment, constantly changing and adapting to the storyline. The light breaking through the background and the stage floor and emanating from WAZ’s Cube makes the stage breathe. When the characters of VOLTA invade this seemingly cold environment, the set literally comes to life.
THE OUTER RING of the circular stage is a revolving plate with footlights that illuminate the performances. It is used to generate kinetic energy on stage as well as move props and artists. Three slim, articulated hydraulic lifts emerge from the stage floor to populate the space above the stage. Higher up, the bridge that spans two of the Big Top’s four masts can move gracefully up and down to modulate the audience’s focus and serve as a second stage, despite weighing 2,268 kilograms. All of the mechanics on stage provide a showcase for the story that is about to unfold. As, for example, in the Parkour act, artists execute a cavalcade of moves and jumps in a fluid and poetic choreography, leaping from freestanding structures spread out on the stage onto three hydraulic lifts, and then onto the bridge and back. The route the acrobats take is meticulously mapped out, taking into account a series of biomechanical parameters.
THE CUBE, WAZ’s refuge where he keeps treasured childhood mementos, represents the duality of the main character. It is a 5,900 kg, highly versatile mechanical device – one of the iconic symbols in the world of VOLTA. The Cube can pivot and move upstage and downstage. Two of its movable panels are used for delivering video content. But beyond the stagecraft and the mechanics, the Cube is a pivotal element in the VOLTA narrative. A theatre décor in its own right, it is the refuge where WAZ can conjure up memories from his childhood in private and out of sight. From WAZ’S dressing room, the Cube turns into WAZ’s childhood bedroom. Inside, WAZ rummages through a treasure chest of cherished mementos. At one point, the Cube metaphorically turns into a time capsule when WAZ plays family movies depicting his happy life at home; the two LED panels unfold from the sides of the Cube to deliver the cinematic content for all the audience to see. Past and present collide in this miniature world where big things happen. (The electrical components of the Cube, such as the rotating motor and the LED panels, are powered by a 200-amp electrical source like the one used in an average home. The wallpaper on the back wall of WAZ’s Cube is perforated with tiny holes to let air through and cool down the two LED panels on its flanks.)
THE ROULODROME — For the breathtaking BMX act, a full-fledged roulodrome (skate park) is mounted on stage in front of the audience’s very eyes. Because of the limited space under the Big Top (the VOLTA stage is exceptionally deep) the six massive ramps used in the breathtaking BMX act are of increasing size and slip one inside another, like Russian dolls, when stowed away. The ramps are made of thick, heavy-duty polycarbonate – a material used to make bulletproof glass – and are fully transparent so as not to block the view of spectators sitting in the front rows, who see riders through the ramp come at them at more than 30 km/h. And the material must be strong and resistant, because a rider landing on a ramp generates a force of 12 Gs: twelve times his weight!
VIDEO CONTENT – REVEALING THE LIGHT WITHIN
VOLTA is a luminous world chock-full of LED-clad objects. The Cube is equipped with two panels made of 4-mm LED tiles that deliver film quality video content. The stage is ringed with LED lights and is lined with a forest of movable lampposts that focus the audience’s attention on the performance.
The video content is divided into four sections: WAZ’s childhood memories, filmed in warm, cinematic fashion; the superficial, computer-generated world of QPQ, which has a colder, slicker look and feel; the calculated city world and its grid-like patterns; and the realm of the Free Spirits, with its natural and earthy atmospheres. To create a sense of cohesion, these four palettes were tied in together through an overall photorealistic approach.
The production’s video control system is 100% interactive and can be triggered by the simple kick of a drum or the sound of a voice. Three cameras capture the action on stage as well as audience reactions, and the images are played back on the screens in real time. There is even a camera mounted on WAZ’s microphone during the QPQ sequences.
The short “family movies” played on the two LED panels that flank the Cube on both sides and transport the audience into WAZ’s past, evoke the main character’s simple, happy childhood out in the country. To give the impression that the observer is privy to the character’s innermost secrets and to create the warm, timeless look, the films were shot in a portrait-style vertical format using special vintage equipment. An ultramodern digital Alexa XT camera was paired with German-made Zeiss Vintage lenses from the 1960s like the ones used by legendary director Stanley Kubrick to create the soft, film-based textures of the movies. When light enters into these lenses, it leaves a distinct signature that creates that classic vintage look.
MUSIC – A STREAM OF GRIPPING LANDSCAPES
VOLTA is propelled by a series of atmospheric, epic and poetic musical landscapes. The vast palette glides 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. Written by composer Anthony Gonzalez (M83), the highly cinematic music of VOLTA evokes a complex array of emotions and moods that ebb and flow majestically like the tide, always in sync with the acrobatic performances on stage. It is a narrative tool in its own right, echoing the different arcs in the storyline and expressing the distinct personalities of the worlds of VOLTA – the GREYS, the ELITES, and the FREE SPIRITS.
COSTUMES – THE FABRIC OF VOLTA
More than 1,200 costume elements were produced for VOLTA by the artisans in the costume workshop at Cirque du Soleil’s international headquarters in Montreal. The stunning costumes echo the themes of alienation and self-realization, and embody the fatuity and overindulgence of self-realization that have gone awry. They also reflect the DIY (Do It Yourself) mentality of those who strive to “find their free”.
In his Quid Pro Quo outfit, Waz is the ultimate Super Elite: solid gold through and through. Gold colored dragon scales make up his hard, exterior shell. This armor is wearing Waz more than he is wearing it. It increasingly becomes a burden as the show progresses. When he sheds the cloak, he appears as a Grey on the verge of becoming a Free Spirit. When he is among the Greys without his Quid Pro Quo cloak, he walks around unnoticed, literally blending in with the crowd. (The laser coat Waz wears as the host of Quid Pro Quo contains 168 lasers, contains 90 meters of wiring, and has a capacity of 115 different laser beam combinations. His distinctive headdress has approximately 1,500 blue feathers.)
In the world of VOLTA, the Greys represent the everyman. In multiple shades of grey, the prints and patchwork-type patterns and textures of their outfits mimic the bleakness of the landscape and blend with the stage. The Grey’s costumes are held together with belting from head to toe. Some of the Greys are in a transitional state to becoming Free Spirits; when they remove their coats, the backs of their shirts have colorful patterns showing their individuality.
The Elites’ costumes are as big as their egos. Clad in metallic gold and black, the Elites are wannabe royals, “blinged” up beyond ridicule. Metallic glitter gives their flamboyant neo-Baroque costumes a hard shine that underscores their self-importance. The shiny gold textures are created with laser-cut metallic and glitter transfer.
Free Spirits are open-minded, life-loving travelers who won’t hesitate a moment to veer off course for the sheer sake of adventure. On their travels, they collect meaningful objects and trinkets, which they attach to their costumes. The fabrics and prints call to mind extensive travel and encounters with many cultures of the world. The Free Spirits’ complex, richly colored outfits evoke handmade techniques such as macramé and crochet. (The make-up designs for the life-loving Free Spirits are inspired by vibrant Hindu colors such as oranges and aqua blues. The colors on the characters’ bodies are applied with sponges full of holes or, in the case of the Swiss rings performers, using various paint splattering techniques.)
The Memories emerge during the dreamlike, cinematic sequences that portray Waz as happy child full of promise. Printed with delicate forest and tree motifs, the Memories’ costumes have a mystical, ethereal feel and convey transparency, sheerness and flow.
WAZ — Once a young boy full of dreams and aspirations, Waz lost his way a long time ago. Growing up as a child, he was mocked for being different: he has blue feathers instead of hair. He uses his fame as the host of QPQ as an armor under which he keeps his secret carefully hidden. As he hosts the 1,000th episode of QPQ, something is eating up at him, and his tightly wound world is fast unspooling. When Waz retreats to the “Cube” – in turn his dressing room and his refuge – he is lulled by memories of his youth. As doubts begin to creep in, he starts to realize that who he once was and what he has become are poles apart. His façade starts to flake away. Waz finally realizes he can show his true face and shine once again.
THE GREYS — The Greys are the everyman, city dwellers who have accumulated the dust of inertia over time. Like the Elites they aspire to become, the Greys are out of sync with their true selves. Lost in the fog of misguided hopes, they have a tendency to look for happiness in the wrong places. They live their lives permanently glued to their cell phones and screens. Mostly cut off from one another, they settle for their everyday routine, the tedium of repetition. Greys come to the Quid Pro Quo TV show for a chance to bathe in instant celebrity. If they win, they are transformed into Elites. But what they don’t realize is that they’re merely switching from one false promise to another. Like Waz, the Greys have faded over time, letting fear get the best of them.
THE ELITES — The Elites are bloated, self-important royalty wannabes. Fitting in is all they aspire to. Instant stardom is the name of the game! Self-knowledge, awareness of others, open mindedness, and curiosity are the least of their concerns. They are conformists who look down on the Greys – even though they were once Greys themselves – and they utterly despise and fear the Free Spirits, because they find their freedom deeply unsettling. They are slaves to judgment. They are power hungry and ruled by fear. Another thing Elites have in common: they idolize Waz, for Waz is their king and savior, which makes them nothing more than brave little soldiers.
THE FREE SPIRITS — The Free Spirits personify the glorious rejection of “good enough.” They are not bound by rules or expectations – not because they are lawless, but because they are free. They are driven by impulses and dreams: freedom is a movement. For them, there are no walls or barriers. They are benevolent, life-loving individuals who see beyond their own nose and care deeply about others. They travel the world, collecting and sharing experiences. They are real and genuine, always seeking to fulfill their potential and that of others. The Free Spirits and the Elites are polar opposites. To a Free Spirit, originality is strength. Waz’s encounter with the Free Spirits – particularly Ela – will inspire him to embrace his true self.
THE MEMORIES — Memories are the embodiment of Waz’s childhood dreams, at a time when everything was still possible, when he still held his destiny in his own hands. A time when fear and not yet taken root in his gut. Memories are the rays of light in his dark world, lifelines to his true self. They reveal the blue feathers under his armor in all their cerulean splendor.
SHOOD KOOD WOOD — This character is Waz’s sidekick. He warms up the QPQ audience and emcees the contestant trials. An Elite wannabe, Shod Kood Wood represents the fear of change. His entire world hinges on WAZ continuing on as the king of QPQ.
YOUNGER WAZ — Younger Waz is the main character’s alter ego. In the world of VOLTA, he is visible only to Waz. This younger version of himself represents his childhood hopes, dreams and aspirations. He is Waz’s guardian angel.
ELA — Ela is the archetypal Free Spirit. She sees the untapped potential in others and tries to rouse them from their apathy. She is there at the right moment to help Waz set out on his journey.
ACTS & ACROBATIC PERFORMANCE
QUID PRO QUO 1,000TH – Rope Skipping
When the 1,000th episode of Quid Pro Quo begins in a frenzy of hysterical excitement, “rope skipping” is selected as the first challenge. After the ecstatic contestants compete in the winner-takes-all challenges, the victor is transformed into an ELITE. In this act, rope skipping takes on a new dimension with a heightened level of acrobatic prowess. Artists perform single rope and double Dutch sequences (two ropes turning in opposite directions). With an urban, hip hop attitude, they tumble, flip, and perform handstand hops through the spinning ropes. When the act culminates in a breathtaking speed pass at full throttle, the two spinning ropes are just a blur.
MEETING ELA – Precision Walk, Roller Skates & Batons
ELA appears on roller skates with other FREE SPIRITS and performs for WAZ, who is totally captivated. ELA is his connection to the real world – a spot of color in his bleak reality. Playfully intrigued, she approaches to touch his blue feathers, but he pulls back. The GREYS execute a striking group choreography, changing directions in rhythmic unison, their eyes glued to their cellphones – compasses leading nowhere. They are all the same: withdrawn, strait-jacketed into their daily routines. ELA playfully joins in the performance of a fellow FREE SPIRIT. Combining dance and gymnastics, the artist twirls her batons as if they are an extension of her body. Demonstrating exceptional control, she spins one, two, and then three batons around her neck, arms, and legs, tossing them high into the air and catching them after performing a series of acrobatic figures.
GUARDIAN ANGEL IN THE CITY – Acro Lamp
WAZ pulls out mementos from his treasure chest, finding pleasure in reconstructing his long-forgotten past. He encounters younger WAZ who tries to shed some light on his predicament. In a moment of calm introspection, “younger WAZ” grabs onto a suspended red lamp just like the one in WAZ’s Cube and flies majestically above the stage in long sweeping arcs. Hanging on with his hands or feet, he swings and spins gracefully above WAZ using the light to metaphorically illuminate the journey ahead.
RISE & SHINE – Parkour
As the GREYS wake up and begin their daily routines, the playful and mischievous FREE SPIRITS invade the city and transform the space into a playground. In a tribute to the discipline and artistry of “free running,” the FREE SPIRITS execute a series of high-level moves and jumps in a fluid and poetic choreography, leaping from freestanding structures spread out on the stage onto the three hydraulic lifts, then onto the bridge and back, crisscrossing in midair. This act explores the themes of synchronicity, musicality, partnering and individuality.
URBAN JUNGLE – Shape Diving
Following the invasion of the city by the FREE SPIRITS, some GREYS are inspired to let their inner free spirit come to life, straddling both worlds. In an electric, urban atmosphere, five artists tumble and jump through shapes, sometimes feet first, sometimes backwards, sometimes bent in half, even adding breakdancing and hip-hop-style moves into the mix.
DAYDREAMING – BMX Flatland & Ballet Duo
In his Cube, WAZ turns on a home video projector and watches 8mm movies of his childhood days, reliving fond memories of riding his beloved red bicycle and playing in the backyard with his mother.
A world champion BMX flatland rider performs a riveting routine on his bike and engages in a pas de deux with a ballet dancer as WAZ looks on. Coming from disciplines that seem worlds apart, the two artists create mirror-like images in a mesmerizing synchronized choreography.
INTERVENTION – Swiss Rings/Bungee
In all their glory, the FREE SPIRITS storm in to encourage WAZ to pursue his quest. He experiences sensations that he hasn’t felt since he was a child. Suspended from the bridge, eight top-level gymnasts on four sets of Swiss-style rings twist, swivel, and sway to and from on their apparatus in a high-energy celebration of WAZ’s departure from the gameshow. They are busy showing their tricks when two artists suddenly fall from the sky on bungee cords and interact with the gymnasts below in alternating patterns.
*** INTERMISSION ***
LEAVING THE CITY – Acrobatic Ladders
WAZ has shed his QPQ persona and is now wandering in the city as an ordinary citizen. As he looks for a way out, he wanders through an alleyway and encounters GREYS who, like him, have evolved and aspire to genuineness and authenticity. Two articulated ladders attached to the edge of the stage on pivot points are the towering symbols of WAZ’s escape from the artificial world of QPQ. Artists climb, spin and execute acrobatic and artistic figures on the ladders in synchronized and alternating patterns. At certain points, the ladders swing out majestically over the audience.
STARLIGHT – Tight Wire
The FREE SPIRITS arrive on stage carrying lanterns that mark the path through this newly discovered world. WAZ finds himself amid a group of nomadic FREE SPIRITS, and for the first time in a long time, he has his sights set on the future – HIS future. The FREE SPIRITS appear on stage carrying luminous stones while an artist performs a fluid tight wire act. Using quick footwork, he hops, sits, rolls and executes somersaults effortlessly, occupying both the space above and under the wire.
GLOBETROTTERS – Charivari
The FREE SPIRITS celebrate the splendors of their boundless world and their adventurous lifestyle as ELA looks on. While an artist holding onto a ring executes acrobatic figures and spins at an astonishing speed, a rider shows his skills at trial bike riding, a discipline in which the rider attempts to scale obstacles without setting foot on the ground. A highline artist walks a tight rope while ELA interacts with the trial rider’s performance.
MIRAGE – Hair Suspension
A spellbinding artist suspended only by her hair levitates slowly from a cushion underneath her, barely touching the ground. This mysterious, slithering character then rises up above the stage, swinging back and forth or spinning like a top, all the while exercising her hypnotic power over all.
HALL OF EQUALS – Hand to Hand on Unicycle
This act is WAZ’s rite of passage into the new world. ELA invites him to partake in a ritual celebration with the FREE SPIRITS. At the end of the act, WAZ is ready to show his true face to the world as the FREE SPIRITS cheer him on. A percussionist performs a thunderous tenor drum solo and is soon joined by four other percussionists suspended above the stage who continue the dramatic, pulsating beat in unison. The FREE SPIRITS watch on as two artists perform a hand to hand act on a unicycle. Suddenly, 24 ropes fall dramatically from the sky. As the artists turn on the rotating stage, they use the ropes to create the structure of a tent in a majestic swirling motion.
BREAKTHROUGH – Contemporary Dance
The real WAZ emerges. He comes face to face with his younger self, and they both look one another in the eye. WAZ has proven that he has remained true to his inner self – a fearless, free and innocent young boy full of big dreams. As his true identity has been locked away until now, so was his hidden talent. Now he is ready to shine. When his inspirational dance comes to an end, SHOOD KOOD WOOD greets his old friend. After witnessing their idol’s breathtaking performance, the GREYS, the ELITES, the FREE SPIRITS and SHOOD KOOD WOOD are awestruck. WAZ’s dance is the physical manifestation of his liberation, building up from simple, understated arm movements, and exploding into dramatic grand jetés. The choreography, which reveals not a dancer, but a free man, expresses WAZ’s humanity, vulnerability and courage.
MOMENTUM – BMX
WAZ is now in control of his life and has been admitted into this community of life-loving FREE SPIRITS. In a contagious spirit of celebration, they let it all out and show their mettle. A full-blown BMX park is mounted on stage in front of the audience’s very eyes for the breathtaking BMX finale as five riders invade the stage to deliver a jaw-dropping, fast and furious performance of nonstop acrobatics on wheels. The riders go up the jump boxes and perform air tricks before landing and leaping off the ramps again, crisscrossing and spinning their bikes in midair in a spirit of brotherhood.
Some of the tricks you’ll see are…
• SUPERMAN: The rider extends both feet outwards to resemble Superman in flight.
• FLAIR: The rider does a backflip with his bike combined with a 180-degree spin before landing on the ramp.
• DOUBLE TAIL WHIP: The rider throws the bike out to one side while still holding onto the handle bars so that the frame goes 360 degrees around the steering tube twice; the rider then catches the frame again and stands back on the pedals.
• FLIP WHIP: While doing a backward flip with his bike, the rider performs a tail whip: he throws the bike out to one side while still holding onto the handle bars so that the frame goes 360 degrees around the steering tube; he then catches the frame again and stands back on the pedals.
• 720: The rider does two 360-degree spins in a single jump.
“VOLTA is a show about the thirst for freedom and the path to self-realization for the good of the many, in a world where the cult of celebrity sometimes consorts with technology to isolate us from one another. It is also a dazzling ode to the courage it takes to blaze one’s own path.
“VOLTA was born out of a desire to create an utterly modern and contemporary show. We wanted to take our devoted fans into new, uncharted territories and touch the hearts of new followers without ever losing track of the Cirque du Soleil DNA. Up-and-coming creators from Quebec combined their talents with those of other renowned creators from around the world to explore new vocabularies – particularly that of action sports – to pay tribute to ‘free spirits’ who live their wildest dreams to the fullest in a spirit of
brotherhood.” – Jean-Francois Bouchard