Interview: Pawel Walczewski Flies into Tysons with Cirque du Soleil ‘Volta’

The Cirque du Soleil acrobat takes us behind the scenes under the big top!

Cirque du Soleil’s Volta features an inspirational message about loving the weirdo within. Volta centers around the character Waz who has allowed the dust of inertia and conformity to gather on him and turn him into a “Grey.” Waz meets Ela, a Free Spirit who reminds him that he too used to be, and could be again, a Free Spirit. I saw the show last month during its Chicago run where I chatted with Pawel Walczewski, one of the aerial artists in the show who plays Waz.  

Pawel Walczewski on the Acro lamp in ‘Volta.’ Photo by Michael Kass.

Chris Griffin: What story is being told in Volta?

Pawel Walczewski: Volta is a story about self-acceptance. We follow the character Waz, who is different than other people because, instead of having normal hair like everyone, he has blue feathers. He is not happy about this and feels ashamed. His story is about realizing that it’s okay to be yourself, however different you are and that’s what makes you more beautiful and special. Everyone has some secrets but it’s most important to be yourself and accept who you are.

How does that resonate with you personally?

I feel like everyone has something they didn’t like in the past or don’t like now. When I was young I was not happy as I could not hang out with my friends outside of school. Instead, I was spending a lot of time in the gym doing gymnastics. I accepted that and now I am where I am. All that time in the gym paid off and now I am an artist with Cirque du Soleil.  

How did you develop the Acro Lamp Act (see the photo above)?  And was that an apparatus you were already working with?

Acro Lamp is a new apparatus for me. I developed the act during the creation process in Montreal. I came with my aerial straps skills, which are similar to what I do now, but the apparatus is more complicated than people think. Working with this apparatus is a bit like a relationship – you have to listen to the lamp and work together to present a beautiful act.  

Pawel Walczewski and Darren Trull in ‘Volta.’ Photo by Andrew Atherton.

It feels like the lamp scene is the point in the show where Waz decides to break free from being a “Grey.”

For sure – this is the first moment when Waz’s memory comes back. There are a few other moments like the Daydreaming act when he watches his mom dancing around him while he’s riding a bicycle, and the straps act, performed by Darren Trull and me, where he sees himself as a Grey and as a Free Spirit.

What goes through your mind when you’re soaring around up there? Do you have time to take it in, or are you always concentrating on what’s coming up next in the act?

You have to always concentrate especially when you do aerial acts out of lines, but after doing this act so many times I can find a moment of connection with the audience and grow my character even more. Everyone has a dream that they want to fly. Being up there and doing this act is my way of flying.  

What’s a typical day for you?

I spend most of my time in the tent. Usually, I come to the tent at noon, lunchtime, then get a little rest and get ready for training. Every day we have different trainings, and because I do Acro Lamp, straps duo, and am a back-up for ladders, I have quite a lot of them. I do an hour of conditioning three times a week before the show, and then one or two shows depending on the day.  

What’s your favorite part of the show?

Of course the lamp and straps acts! Also the hair hanging and breakthrough when Waz decides to be free. (Cirque artist Danila Bim does an astounding aerial act suspended by her hair).  

The hair act was crazy! 

Yes, it’s very unique.

You’ve been with the show since its creation in 2017, yeah?

Yes, I started with the creation of the show in October 2016 in Montreal. We had a six-month creation process and have played thirteen cities so far!

How has the show changed since you first started?

The show has changed a lot but that’s normal. When you create a show you have to get public feedback. We see what works and what doesn’t – that’s why the show is always growing. I improve a lot and grow as an artist and as a person.  

How are you looking forward to being in DC?

Every time we come to a new city, I like to explore and see what the city has to offer. I really like the tourist spots and to meet new people. I have to get a magnet and a postcard from each city.  

Is there anything else you want DC audiences to know about Volta? We look forward to having you and the show here!

I think the best way to know more is to come and see the show in Tysons and see how the story of Waz resonates with them personally.  

Thanks, Pawel! Enjoy flying!

I will!

[READ John Stoltenberg’s review of Volta.]

Cirque du Soleil Volta performs July 25 – September 29, 2019, Under the Big Top at Tysons II, 8025 Galleria Dr., Tysons, VA. For tickets, go online.