Given the peak physical condition of its performers, and the characteristically form-fitting costumes they wear, the latest creation from Cirque du Soleil could easily have been given the title, “Abs, Abs and More Abs.”
But in the case of “Volta,” which runs now thru March 8 at Dodger Stadium, the perfectly sculpted midsections on display were merely one of many powerful elements contributing to a moving spectacular about love, acceptance, and personal identity — a bold performance insisting that you come as you are, whether you have sculpted abs or not.
To be sure, the perfection of the bodies on stage made sure that the beauty (and overall hotness) of mankind was a key component in maintaining the audience’s non-stop attention at last Thursday’s Equality Night performance of the award-winning acrobatic troupe’s 41st production. While the show has no particular focus on sex, there was no doubt to anyone in the crowd — gay or straight, male or female — that the Big Top erected outside Dodger Stadium was bursting at the seams with the most purely (and most appropriate) natural sense of sexuality they had likely ever seen on a live stage.
But the show delivered so much more.
As we’ve come to expect from Cirque du Soleil, “Volta” is high on drama (the good kind), emotion (the introspective kind), and boundless energy (the refreshing kind). It’s also full of music, possibility-defying displays of acrobatic prowess, intricately crafted choreography, multimedia presentation, and more music — manifested with particular beauty by the gorgeous, larger-than-life voices raised in a chorus of loud-and-proud songs which also serve as a sort of ongoing narration giving shape to the action on the stage.
That action, of course, is the main attraction. “Cirque du Soleil,” after all, literally translates as “Circus of the Sun,” and the Montreal-based performance troupe stays true to its roots by dazzling the audience with breathtaking, death defying displays of athletic precision. “Volta” features dazzling aerial acts, trampoline artists with unthinkably sophisticated skills, gymnasts diving through hoops with the playful grace of dolphins, a show-stopping dance routine from a performer suspended high above the floor by only her own hair, and next-level BMX bike-riding that will have you on your feet and cheering like a 10-year-old at, well, a circus.
These astonishing stunts are tied together in a mostly visual concept in which gray-clad, dron-ish beings, absorbed by the images on their glowing phone screens, become obsessed with a television talent show. As the acts unfold, one hopeful contestant among them begins to shine, despite his efforts to remain as colorless as his anonymous compatriots, eventually blossoming on live TV into a uniquely fabulous free spirit — encouraged by a rainbow-clad entourage and inspired by memories of his childhood until he finds his place among the crowd by embracing the things that make him different.
It was the initially quiet voice within the soul of this lead character, named Waz, that stole the show and eventually the hearts of the mesmerized audience at Thursday night’s performance.
The artist portraying Waz, Joey Arrigo, revealed some of the personal inspiration that he brings to the role:
“Growing up myself as a part of the LGBTQ community, we naturally suppressed ourselves from a young age because […] you were told that who you were was wrong and that the life you are about to live is not accepted. Nowadays, kids who grow up in this community are so lucky to be fed with all this knowledge, and the fact that it is OK to be who you are. As adults who had to repress ourselves … we’re finally coming out of that and realizing […] we can embrace who we really are no matter what anyone has told us in the past.”
“One of the most touching moments in the show was a scene in which Waz, having begun to venture out into a community of people like him, found himself in awe of two men who did a soaring Aerial Straps duet. The artists’ (Pawel Walczewski and Darren Trull) celebration of intimacy and synchronicity was a tour de force.”
The show’s message of self-acceptance seemed to resonate with the audience on Equality Night, from which a portion of proceeds went to support the LA LGBT Center. It was a glittering event, and several LGBTQ and allied celebrities were among the crowd, some of whom spoke with Los Angeles Blade on the “Rainbow Red Carpet” before the show.
Betty Who, an Australian singer-songwriter with several #1 songs on the Billboard Dance charts, was excited for the chance to see “Volta,” saying, “Cirque du Soleil is one of my favorite things in the world … Seeing anybody who is capable of doing things that nobody thought possible really inspires me, always … and I’m really excited to see all of the amazing things that are obviously going to happen tonight — and being completely inspired by them!”
Actor Jaicy Elliot (“Grey’s Anatomy”) said, “It’s so important to support the LGBT Center and I think anything we can do to be here and show our love and appreciation for what they do is important. I have so many friends in the LGBTQ community who lean on the LA LGBT Center and the good that they do.”
Also in attendance was actor Rizwan Manji (“Outsourced,’ “Schitt’s Creek”), who told Los Angeles Blade he was there in part because of pushback that occurred on social media after the season finale of his current series, “Perfect Harmony.”
“[The series] takes place in a church and our season finale episode took place in a drag club. And there was some push back from people [on social media] and personally I responded, “love is love.” I feel like you can still have a show about a church choir and still have that… feeling of “love is love”… that perfect harmony. So, I think it’s really important to be here and what better place to support love than Cirque du Soleil?”
The general buzz of excitement and support that filled the air during the glittering pre-show event only increased with the evening’s magical performance, and by the time it was over, the crowd responded with an energetic and roaring standing ovation. Still, the exuberance of the audience still couldn’t match that of the Cirque du Soleil cast members, who seemed even more energized than when they first took the stage 90 minutes earlier.
As the night drew to a close, the boundless energy that had characterized the entire event seemed to have instilled a momentum into the departing crowd — but one that felt like more than merely the after-effects of an adrenaline rush. With the show’s message of living your best life by learning to embrace your truest self, there was a sense of renewed hope in the air.
“Volta” may have been over, but for many inspired audience members, perhaps, the journey had just begun.
John Paul King contributed to this article.