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Volta, Cirque du Soleil
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times

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Writer & Director: Bastien Alexandre

At: South of Soldier Field ( LSD at 18th Street ). Tickets: cirquedusoleil/com/usa/Chicago/volta; $49-$290. Runs through: July 6

In 1984, Cirque du Soleil reinvented the circus by eliminating animals, sideshows, name stars and ringmasters—dramatically slashing costs and complexities and eliminating numerous ethical issues—while emphasizing young, international talent and unified production concepts featuring fantastic costumes, original new age/global pop music and a vague storyline. Cirque now is the world's largest live entertainment empire. Volta, created in 2017, is the latest Cirque product to play Chicago—and it's different ( and yet the same ) as most previous Cirque shows.

A new gray-and-white tent absorbs less solar heat than the familiar blue-and-yellow swirl. Then, the nearly nonstop mesmerizing new-age music ( composed by M83 band founder Anthony Gonzalez ) is pre-recorded ( versus played live as in previous shows ), although there are two live vocalists. Also, no programs were handed out with artists' names or act titles.

Online images reveal that each act name is flashed at the center-rear of the stage, but about 40 percent of patrons cannot see any of this ( I was one ), nor the opening story segment. You should avoid seats in sections 205 and 206 entirely and seats in sections 103, 104, 203 and 204 with only a side view of the stage. Naturally, these are the most affordable tickets.

The vague story concerns an outsider boy with blue feathers for hair ( Reference the 1948 Joseph Losey film, The Boy With Green Hair ), who flees his apparently bucolic rustic childhood to seek free-spirited individuals like himself in the Big City. The thin storyline allows Volta to define its acts as extreme sports/urban in character: roller skaters, jump ropers, two BMX trick bikes acts ( one solo and one group ), unicycle acrobats and a dazzling double trampoline act in which the athletes seem to jump to/from the windows of a three-flat.

Several aerial acts are handsome and adrenalin-pumping but familiar, although the artists whirl, fly, swing and contort from urban-ish rings, bungee cords, a light fixture and a 40-foot high segmented ladder rather than a traditional trapeze or Spanish cord. There's a brief yoyo act ( Asian yoyo, not the U.S. version ), two ballet segments, an engaging tumbling act ( entitled "Shape Divers" ) and—show stopper—a female aerialist who is suspended only by her topknot of hair! Finally, an excellent solo clown act ( Mr. Wow ), a wonderful mime artist, does two nearly wordless segments.

From any seat in the tent, you'll enjoy a youthful dream of shaved, lean body mass and attractive, enthusiastic, daring multi-cultural artists playing to the crowd. But Volta is outrageously expensive with most tickets north of $100. The Chicago Park District gouges $25 for parking and Cirque gouges $8.00 for cotton candy made from ingredients worth $.20. Shame on them! I won't rot my teeth for $8!

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