Joey Arrigo discusses dance superstars and what we can tell young boys who wish to be dancers
The amazingly flexible and insanely acrobatic artists of Cirque Du Soleil are known to be experts at their artistry. But what brought them to the Cirque family is exciting. I sat down with Joey Arrigo, who portrays “Waz” in the latest Cirque Du Soleil production Volta. It kicks off at the Philadelphia Expo Center on July 12, 2018.
Arrigo and I chatted about what it’s like playing Waz in Volta, how dancing can truly make you shine, and why everyone should learn to accept their own proverbial “blue feathers.”
Michael Cook: You are playing the role of Waz in Cirque Du Soleil’s Volta. Tell me about your path to this role.
Joey Arrigo: My path to this role was a big one. It kind of came at me at a time in my life where I was using the character development of “Waz” in Volta kind-of at the same time. The overall theme of our show is self-acceptance and self-love. Waz is a character who needs to feel that within himself. He needs to accept every bit of himself and love himself for who he is. That is when we can really free our spirit. I feel that it really came at a time in my own life where I could use this character to use lessons in my own life. It was a big moment for both myself and for Volta all together. I feel a lot of us in the show took this message and it inspired us to create the show that we have today.
For you personally, it sounds like the role of Waz came at truly the perfect time.
JA: Absolutely. I feel that it came as a really great push for me artistically to be able to create a character, and to perform a character, who is not strong, right from the beginning. The character kind of digs deep within himself and explores that vulnerable side. Showing vulnerability is a really big step towards gaining power. I think that really shows a great journey for someone who is broken down. It builds themselves up, back to strength. As many main characters of movies, stage and shows, they go on that journey. And that is what really brings an audience member in. It’s relatable. Everyone can learn something and be inspired by Waz’s story. Whatever their metaphorical blue hair is, Waz has his blue feathers that he is insecure about. Everyone has their blue feathers that they themselves are insecure about. Everyone wants to free themselves, and learn to love themselves.
I don’t have a ton of things that I am insecure about
As a performer, what do you think your own “blue feathers” are?
JA: As a performer-so many things. I will say that over years of performing, I have gotten rid of many insecurities in my life. Now after this long life of performing, I don’t have a ton of things that I am insecure about. I have learned to really take myself seriously as an artist and a performer. And I share exactly that with my audience every single day. I think as we grow up and learn about who we are, we sometimes question choices we make artistically and choices we make personally. It is all about coming together with those things. I would not say that I am really insecure about anything with myself anymore. And I think that is why I am able to tell this story. There are no real scripts with me. It’s definitely “what you see is what you get.” It’s all out on display for everyone.
Cirque Du Soleil is everything that I wanted and more
Were you always a fan of the Cirque Du Soleil shows before joining the company?
JA: When I was five years old, my parents had one of Cirque Du Soleil’s first shows, titled Nouvelle Experience on VHS. I think it was their show from the mid to late 80’s. Watching it in my living room I was already inspired. I knew what Cirque Du Soleil was, and I loved that they brought the energy of the circus to almost the feeling of a Broadway show. They brought so much heart to the circus and things that make people so happy and love so much. I always knew that one day I wanted to be a part of this show at some point in my life. There was a clown on this VHS tape. And as a five year old I had no idea what was going on. I just knew that he was very entertaining. Sixteen years later and I get a call from Cirque to join Kooza. And I went to Europe, starting in Vienna Austria. The night of my first show my artistic director told us “good luck, and don’t be nervous.” He said the creator of the show is here tonight. I was obviously nervous. But all went well and I had a fantastic evening, and a great show. The creator of Kooza, David Shiner, came back stage and I put two and two together. He was the clown from the VHS tape in my living room all those years ago. I got to be in his show. I said when I was five years old, I wanted to be in that, and I was. It is everything that I wanted and more.
What is it like being such a big a part of Volta?
JA: I hold the responsibility very high on my shoulders to be a part of this show, as well as to be one of the characters. Being a part of Kooza, before this, I was able to honor what is a traditional Cirque Du Soleil show. It was full of traditional circus art and kind of followed the theme of what traditional Cirque Du Soleil can bring to someone; a magical world full of acrobatics that stun you and it feels like a traditional circus. Coming into Volta we are doing the exact opposite. We are taking a story line that is extremely modern day and relatable to our audience, rather than a mystical magical world that people have come to expect from Cirque. We felt that it was now time to give them something real. To be a part of that adventure and almost that lift of trying something new. It was super adrenaline pinching for us all during the entire creation. I also hold the responsibility high on my shoulders.
It’s an emotional journey every time I get on stage
So, is it fair to say that Volta is not just story based. It’s also character based?
JA: Our show is story based. And it is about how much we can relate to our audience and how much our audience can take away. That relies on me and how I am expressing not only Waz’s feelings, but also my own. Because they do parallel so much. It’s an emotional journey every time I get on stage, and a different one at that every day. I am very proud to be a part of this show. Our show has gone through so many things when it comes to the side of creation. We have reinvented it so many times, even in the past year. I have loved being a part of that process. Knowing what works and what did not work. And knowing the potential that this show has for a very long run in the future.
This is not the first large production you have been a part of. You worked with Mia Michaels on So You Think You Can Dance right?
JA: I did! That was actually one of my first jobs. I got very lucky that I had a connection through a friend-of-a-friend who said that Mia Michaels needed an assistant. Mia and I began our relationship when I was sixteen. And I worked with her on and off through the next five years until I joined Cirque. Mia was probably one of the people who inspired me the most. She made me view dance in a real way for the first time. I think as a child growing up as a dancer, its all about learning your left foot from your right. And then you learn your body’s awareness and figuring out this instrument that you are growing into. Not only are you learning about the body you have, but you are learning about the body you are growing with. As you gain your adult body, you move differently and dance differently. Your experiences have been different. Mia was the first person who taught me how to take my life, and how I feel, and bring that into a very structured technique of dancing and to make it art. Her influence on the art that I do will stay with me forever. I think she is brilliant and any dancer would be lucky to work with her.
So, Mia taught you not just dancing, but about life?
JA: Your spirit, your soul is what is going to let you shine as a dancer. As cliché as some of those words can be, she also would use the term that you body is just your earth suit. This is the suit that I inhabit right now. But my soul is something that is way stronger than that. Dancing from your soul, and giving from you soul, is what is going to make you shine, and make you an individual. It will make you, you.
If you had to look five years down the line, where do you want to see your career go?
JA: I feel like I am standing here with many roads in front of me for the next five years. This company allows you to dream so big. Because I have been a part of this creation for so long I know what it takes to create a show with this company. I’m interested in seeing it from the other side and looking at it from a directors point of view. I have so many opinions when it comes to the look and the aesthetic of our show. And I look at the overall feel of what our audience is going to take away. That is how I see myself at some point in my life in a director’s position no matter where that may be. I have also thought about stepping into a choreographer’s role. I’ve done a lot of choreography for myself, which is very different than doing it for other people. Dancers or acrobats that don’t have a dance background, and making them look fantastic through that is different. A lot of my choreography comes from competitive dance studios that compete all over the country. I have done a lot of work with that. A big dream is to take the company that I have already worked for, and love, and put my magic on these stages. That is two of two thousand places I see myself going.
There are so many little boys that may be coming to the show that want to be dancers, and have not told their parents or feel comfortable expressing that. If you could tell those little boys that want to be a performer, like you are, what would you tell them?
JA: I am 26-years-old now! It was not that long ago that I was that little boy. It was only about 22 years ago. I grew up in a time where I dealt with a little bit of bullying or backlash from people who did not understand what I wanted to do, or where I wanted to take my life. That all circles around to self-acceptance and self-love. The naive nature of being a child just really allows us to do that. We naturally follow our hearts. If our heart is beating strong enough for something, we just go for it. No matter what the implications or what people will say or think. We know that this is something that is going to make us happy. If it is something that you really really love, you have to do that. Follow your heart. I never understood anyone who got themselves into a situation, or a life, or a job that they did not love. Our time on earth is limited. And you are only going to be that ten year old dreaming little boy once. You are only going to be 16 once. And you are only going to be in your twenties, one time. Do it the right way. If you have a passion and something is filling your heart and sparking your interest, take it! Slap it on the head and run with it because it can be all yours.
Volta will be presented under the Big Top next to the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks starting July 12th, 2018. Cirque Club members can purchase tickets for these performances online starting at cirquedusoleil.com/volta.