BY ELYSE TREVERS
Despite what some might say, circuses are for adults, especially modern circuses. Only adults can appreciate the practice, skill and danger that goes into performing complex stunts. At “Volta,” the newest offering by Cirque du Soleil, as kids sit wide-eyed, every act is punctuated by gasps of oohs and ahs from the grownups.
For the first time, the Cirque Big Top has been raised on Long Island in the parking lot of Nassau Coliseum. At night, the color-lit the tent has a magical fairytale quality. And there must be magic involved because otherwise how could the artists perform some of these incredible feats?
Like the other Cirque du Soleil shows, “Volta” has a story, which attempts to connect the assorted acts. The story, although slight and probably unnecessary, begins with a talent show, the “Mr. Wow Show.” The final contestant, the blue -haired Waz, eventually experiences the liberation of self-acceptance and the power of fulfilling one’s own potential as he recalls his childhood but also moves forward, meeting other creative people and trying new experiences.
With the inclusion of electronic music, bungee jumping and hip-hop, it’s clear that “Volta” is appealing to a youthful audience. The energy that the title implies is nonstop and, except for the two clown episodes intentionally changing the pace, the show feels almost frenetic. Some artists perform on roller skates, one gal twirls as many as 6 batons at one time and one powerful young man rides his unicycle with a woman on his shoulders. Sometimes she even covers his eyes and later does a handstand on him.
Incorporating video screens, Volta shows Waz recalling moments of his youth. His recollections are more somber than are the ones with the groups of performers. Later he performs a “Breakthrough” and does a contemporary dance.
Cirque du Soleil began in 1984 and Volta marks its 41st original production. The Long Island show is the 18th under the Big Top, and the shows have entertained more than 190 million people in more than 450 cities on six continents. Most of the shows include the trademarks of the Cirque brand- clowns, incredible athleticism, and daring acrobatics.
Although there’s only one stage in front of the 2,000 plus people at Volta, at times, the show feels like a three- ring circus and you hardly know where to look. We were in the second row and sometimes felt nervous, fearing for the performers’ safety as well as our own. The hair suspension act features an incredibly muscular young woman wearing a flesh-colored costume with artfully- placed spangles who was hoisted by her hair to the top of the tent. She twirled and contorted way above us. Below, many of us instinctively flinched in pain. “Doesn’t that hurt her head? “ “What if her hair falls out?”
Several aspects of Volta become apparent immediately: the agility, conditioning and vigor of the performers. The show is a nod to youth culture, incorporating street sports like the awesome final routine using several BMX bikes and ramps covering the entire stage. It was similar to skateboarding, but during this routine, several performers are simultaneously riding their bikes. They spin the bikes and perform air tricks. One wrong move, one mistimed step and they could hit one another.
They make it look easy. We realize that it isn’t. The performances and synchronization take hours and hours of practice, particularly those acts done with more that one participant. So we watched, gasped and sometimes even held our collective breaths in anticipation.