TOTEM – Cirque du Soleil’s latest offering…writes Deb Meyer

October 31, 2014 by Deb Meyer
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Celebrating their 30th anniversary, Cirque du Soleil’s latest production is as mesmerising, visually striking and slick as their devoted audiences have come to expect.

At the Cirque

At the Cirque

Under the Grand Chapiteau at the Entertainment Quarter’s Showring, TOTEM “explores the evolutionary process of species, from its original amphibian state to its ultimate desire to fly”, illustrated through a visual and acrobatic language. It’s an ambitious theme, which doesn’t quite hit the mark as a cohesive narrative but rather as a splendid sequence of brilliantly crafted acts, linked by an inspired use of staging, lighting, costume and makeup.

Written and directed by internationally acclaimed theatre artist Robert Lepage, TOTEM’s cast of international performers are daring and highly impressive, from the opening scene of amphibious acrobats sprouting forth from a skeletal turtle’s carapace. Their swinging between parallel bars above the large cage-like structure is a real highlight.

From oceanic depths to terrestrial shores and onto great heights; from monkeys to Neanderthals, humans and scientists, this evolutionary process includes an array of multicultural and varied acts, from Amerindian Hoop Dancers to a quintet of female Chinese Unicyclists, in glorious harvest inspired costumes, flipping and catching metal bowls on their heads in perfect synchronicity (a crowd favourite on opening night).

For an audience appreciative of acrobatics, there’s plenty to admire, from the sculpted swimming costume clad Rings Trio swinging over the audience, to the Russian Bars with men in glowing, alien inspired body suits and helmets, flinging, flipping and twisting their bodies up high, landing on a bar, held at either end, as flexible and narrow as an oversized strand of linguini. The strength, skill and artistry of the performers is extraordinary.

Some tender moments appear in the form of trapeze duo, Guilhem Cauchoise and Sarah Tessier, who embody the tension and trust of young love, high above the audience, along with roller skating pair Denise Garcia-Sorta and Massimiliano Medini, whose high speeds on the small platform of a drum, convey a loving intimacy and passion.

Ring in

Ring in

Besides the cast’s obvious talent, the technical and production elements of TOTEM are really what makes Cirque du Soleil the powerhouse of the international Circus scene.

Robert Lepage is renowned for pushing boundaries, especially in his use of technology, and in TOTEM, collaborating with an outstanding production crew, is no different. Using the theme of water as a linking device between disparate scenes, the team cleverly incorporate projected images, lighting and sound to great effect, with a hyper-flexible ramp providing an extraordinary bridge between the water and terra firma as well as the sky.

Costumes designed by Kym Barrett are the work of a truly creative giant whose full body suits and detailed pieces are exquisite, from the opening Crystal Man’s suit glistening in the spotlight as he’s lowered from the top of the tent, to the dazzling bejewelled costumes of the Foot Juggling Belarus twins, to the life-like monkey suits. Makeup design by the talented Nathalie J. Simard is equally impressive.

Cirqhue3Live music, dominated by percussive sounds, is ethereal and worldly, with some beautiful singing by Esi Acquaah-Harrison and Christian Laveau. A shame that the musicians were hidden for most of the production. When the musicians do come on stage during certain scenes, the performances are noticeably elevated, giving an added dimension, rather than diminishing from the act.

Despite a flawless technical production, the staging was at times awkward. For a space where over half the audience sits on either side of the stage, most of the acts face the front of the tent which makes it difficult for those sitting on the sides to fully view certain acts that rely on synchronised movement, such as the Unicyclists and Foot Jugglers.

The humour in the show also didn’t quite hit the mark, relying on a macho, stereotyped Italian – Valentino, to provide some cheap laughs. For humour and more adult circus/vaudeville or burlesque, other circus companies excel, but TOTEM is a family friendly production that has great appeal for all ages.

For the 2 and a half hour show, TOTEM is truly spectacular and despite it’s high ticket price tag, for both newcomers and seasoned devotees of this international sensation who began 30 years ago in the streets of Quebec, there is much to enjoy.


Until January 4, 2015

Under the Big Top on The Showring at the Entertainment Quarter.


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