Vocalists Add a Narrative Twist to Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta’

Vocalist Eric DeShan discusses the contributions of song and lyrics to Cirque du Soleil's latest offering.

Cirque du Soleil’s Volta is a rush of energy and hand-over-mouth gulps of emotions. Currently decamped in Fairfax County, a quick saunter from the raised Metro Silver Line station at Tysons II, Volta offers eye-popping performances and pantomimed baggy-pants comedy.

Cirque du Soleil vocalist Eric DaShan. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Cirque du Soleil has been performing in the DC area since the late 1980s but what elevates the experience in Volta is the arena-style, original music performed by a live band with two accomplished vocalists who are very visible onstage. The music helps connect the storyline for the over twelve separate “circus” acts.

I recently spoke to one of Volta’s vocalists, Eric DeShan about the vocalist’s contributions to Volta. “The songs are a through-line connecting the acts and the overall theme of Volta,” DeShan says. Since Volta is about a personal journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, “I plant the seeds of possibilities” for the storyline about “breaking free from the world around you.”

The theme for Volta is this: a young man named WAZ is lost. He thinks himself too different to be acceptable to the rest of the world. Others laugh at him. So, he begins a journey to find himself beyond the world that has mocked him, a world populated by humdrum and staid folk called GREYS led by puppet masters, the controlling ELITES. To find himself, he must be open to risk and change, including both mental and physical challenges.

Each Volta act on WAZ’s journey has its own musical composition to provide an aural landscape that acts as a jet fuel propellant. (It may remind DMV theatergoers of Synetic Theater’s wordless, physical productions with music compositions by Konstantine Lortkiapnidze that serves as plot pointers.)

Volta bursts with athletic endeavors of extreme physical and mental challenge. But, they are pretty much silent performances without the musical story-telling giving voice to the production. Sung by Eric DeShan and Camilla Bäckman, the songs became a narrative-spine for the visual physicality of Volta.

The generally throbbing arena-style music was composed by European composer Anthony Gonzalez who created a stream of moody, emotional moments to sync with the acrobatic performances. The music, played by a live band, is an array of power-driven synth-pop with more inner-personal melodic lines sung in harmony by DeShan and Bäckman.

WAZ in Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta.’ Photo by Patrice Lamoureux. Costume by Zaldy.

The music and vocals are successful in “creating inner feelings” for Volta, DeShan says. The musical numbers give “emotional resonance to the journey of self-discovery.” As I witnessed at a recent performance, the production comes alive as the audience begins to decipher the journey as it takes on more visual colors in costuming and lighting. The visuals are impacted by the music and voices as DeShan noted in our interview.

What’s more, it is clear that the singers are not an invisible afterthought. They are visual and aurally integral to the show. An example: One act in Volta features the trampoline wall. Risk-taking performers drop from two-story-high walls onto a trampoline, spinning and tumbling in the air. As the act builds, the trampoline begins to rotate and acrobats, both female and male, drop and pop. And there, in the midst of it all, is DeShan, standing tall at the apex of the over 2 story apparatus. He took his own physical and mental risks standing on top of that structure adding his voice to the drama.

DeShan grew up in Oklahoma. He studied opera and musical theater at Oklahoma City University. Then it was off to NYC and Broadway. He has performed with the national Broadway tour of Tommy masterminded by Peter Townshend. A long-time lover of Cirque productions, DeShan began his Volta tour in December 2018 when the show was in San Francisco.

In our interview, DeShan noted that Volta is an “intriguing tale of transformation about being true to ones-self.” It is about the ultimate liberation from the judgment of others.

How so? For DeShan, the vocalizing helps to connect Waz to the audience. Here is example lyric from one of the Volta compositions; “Something has changed within me/Nothing will ever be the same, I’m done playing with logic.”

For DeShan, Volta is a production that allows the audience “to surrender to the journey” and the challenges that WAZ faces and overcomes. From DeShan’s vantage points in the show, whether high above, at center stage, or on the sidelines, Volta is a “dream event where the audience can take away its own interpretations and excitement.”

As another lyric goes from “To The Stars:”

Turning off the dark moon/Falling for my new sun…
I’m leaving you the cold/I’m burning up the grey
I’m leaving you the cold/And I’m sending you a sign

[Related: Review, Volta by Cirque du Soleil at Tysons]

Running Time: Two hours 15 minutes, including one 25-minute intermission.

Volta plays through September 29, 2019, under the white-and-gray Big Top at Tysons II, 8025 Galleria Drive, Tysons, VA 22102. Tickets are available online or by calling (877) 924-7783.

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David Siegel
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on DC Metro Theater Arts, ShowBiz Radio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with the American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.