By Jana Monji
A sport that Nao Yoshida initially took up on a whim has landed him a featured segment during the first act of Volta, a Cirque du Soleil show.
Volta is about the inner journey to find one’s true self and be loud and proud about it. Yoshida, a Japanese bicycle dance artist, plays the younger version of the show’s protagonist Waz. A reality show contestant, Waz is well-received until a discovery literally makes him blue: he has blue feathers on his head instead of hair. That might make him a freak to others, but his unique ‘do eventually becomes a source of pride.
Though he plays a child in the production, in reality, Yoshida is a 32-year-old with a wiry physique. He has been experimenting with flatland BMX cycling for almost two decades now.
Despite not having any particular interest in sports as a kid, he and his older twin brother Koh took an interest in the sport after seeing a US competition on television. At 15, the two Yokohama natives found others in their neighborhood to learn from and with.
Eventually, they weren’t just good. They were great. Yoshida placed second in an All Japan tournament in 2017 and was a finalist in the world contest the same year. The twosome eventually formed a school, Twins BMX.
As a child, there was nothing in Yoshida’s background that hinted that his fancy flatland cycling would become his ride to fame and fortune. He never took dance or martial arts, and he initially wanted to become an artist like his parents.
Yoshida’s mother is a fashion designer and his father is a designer for Onkyo. Yoshida has himself designed for Japanese fashion brands and even made props for big-budget Broadway musicals. He once tackled new materials to make a giraffe’s leg for The Lion King. But his art isn’t just behind the scenes – he’s had a solo exhibition of his work in New York.
He explained that joining the show has meant learning how to express certain emotional content during a performance, something he didn’t have to do as a sports competitor.
In Volta, Yoshida performs a pas de deux with a ballet dancer. The theatricality is surely something he’ll eventually take back to his school when his time with Cirque ends.
Since Cirque called Yoshida to audition, this gig has been a two-year-and-counting journey. With his new bride as his roadie, Yoshida revealed that he considers his time away from Japan and his school to be the ultimate honeymoon plan. He’s making money and memories.
Yoshida noted that BMX is now a sport that will be part of the Summer Olympics hosted in Tokyo this year. Checking out the pros at Cirque, then, could help audiences prepare to watch the competition for BMX gold later this summer. All of this from a program meant to inspire the audience to be true to their inner selves or even just get back up on a bicycle again.
Volta will continue to show at LA’s Dodger Stadium until March 8. It will then move to Costa Meca, Denver and Portland as it runs through August 2. More information on venue dates and ticketing is available online.
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