In a wistful story line woven through “Volta,” the intermittently astonishing Cirque du Soleil extravaganza at Tysons II, a sweet misfit named Waz — who has blue feathers for hair — plunges into melancholy after his dance routine in a game show competition fails to dazzle. His subsequent doldrums include encounters with the Greys, conformist drudges who dress in black and white and often plod around with their eyes glued to their phones. Here’s what else the Greys do: Plod around reading the newspaper.
The broadsheet sight gag seems prompted not by anti-journalistic animus, but by the fact that newsprint fits the pointed color scheme of “Volta,” which is written and directed by Bastien Alexandre. (Jean Guibert is director of creation.) Following a sojourn in the chiaroscuro landscape of the Greys, Waz (primarily played by Joey Arrigo) finds himself hobnobbing with the Freespirits: artists and daredevils who dress in tutti-frutti hues and execute gravity-defying exploits amid candy-toned spotlights. (Martin Labrecque is lighting designer. Zaldy Goco designed the delectable costumes.)
In this exuberant environment — where Waz will ultimately regain his confidence and sense of purpose — athletes hurtle and flip through narrow, precariously stacked hoops. Two awe-inspiring virtuosos (Philippe Bélanger and Marie-Lee Guilbert) careen and balance on a single moving unicycle. A flock of trampoline artists bounce off and on a miniature apartment building like turbocharged yo-yos.
The combination of extraordinary acrobatic feats, industrial-strength artsy visuals and mysterious wispy narrative is vintage Cirque du Soleil. But “Volta” — which premiered in Montreal in 2017 — purports to have its own distinctive vision, with a recurrent theme of street sports. That motif is not always apparent, but it certainly surfaces in certain scenes, such as a tour de force of stunt-cycling in which riders pull off bat-out-of-hell slaloms, wheelies and aerial swivels along a transparent cradle.
Not all the sequences in the show are equally successful. A double-Dutch jump-rope interlude feels ho-hum, and it’s simply excruciating to watch a jewel-entwined woman (Danila Bim, at the reviewed performance) dangle, at length, by her hair. (Maybe the next Cirque brand extension is a follicle-strengthening shampoo?)
Also in the mix are some not very funny comic bits featuring a perpetually awestruck character named Mr. Wow (Andrey Kislitsin), who at one point engages in a loopy battle with malfunctioning washing machines. Mr. Wow’s scenes aren’t the only elements that feel forced (at least to this critic; many in the audience at the reviewed performance seemed to find his shtick droll). Waz’s brooding interiority, which we experience sometimes as lush cinematic video of a small blue-feather-headed child, and at other times as cameos by Waz doppelgangers, is grafted a tad awkwardly onto the show’s roster of physical derring-do.
Still, there’s great visual beauty to Waz’s journey of self-actualization, as with everything else in “Volta.” And the show’s score, which nods to electronic music and New Age-y pop, among other influences, is suitably stirring. (Anthony Gonzalez, of the electronic group M83, is composer and musical director.) In true Cirque fashion, the show combines painstaking artistry with an environment that has all the intimacy of an aircraft carrier. But the scale and occasional unevenness will probably not bother most audiences, who will find the adrenaline-packed “Volta” making their personal front pages.
Volta, written and directed by Bastien Alexandre. Director of creation, Jean Guibert; artistic guidance, Jean-François Bouchard; set design, Bruce Rodgers; choreographer, Julie Perron; video content designer, Thibaut Duverneix; sound designer, Jean-Michel Caron; props designer, Anne Séguin Poirier; acrobatic performance designers, Rob Bollinger and Philippe Aubertin. Two hours and 15 minutes. Through Sept. 29 at Tysons II. $49-$205. 877-924-7783. cirquedusoleil.com/volta.