Review – Totem – Cirque du Soleil

Cirque Du Soleil TOTEM

The Grand Chapiteau, Entertainment Quarter, Sydney

About Cirque du Soleil
This is the seventh touring production to come to Australia, with the first, Alegria, introducing Australians to the Cirque phenomenon in 1999. Cirque was founded by Guy Laliberté in Quebec, Canada in 1984, morphing from innovative street theatre to a global force. At this time, there are around 4000 employees including 1300 performers hailing from 50 countries. There are 19 shows operating around the world, with ten permanent shows (eight in Las Vegas), and eight touring shows. In what is a staggering figure, 150 million people have seen a Cirque production.
I am a Cirque tragic, and have been ever since I was introduced to them in Las Vegas, in the year 2000. The show I saw was Mystere, and I still remember the sheer joy and disbelief at what I was seeing. A crazy mixture of beauty and dance, gymnastics and strength, comedy and drama. I, along with the rest of the crowd, walked out feeling on top of the world, and wondering how on earth the incredible performers did it. Since then I have ticked off many more shows, and the shows never fail to tug at my heartstrings; shattering once again my thoughts on what was possible.

About Totem
The theme of Totem is human evolution, with the set resembling a swamp – a colourful one at that – with giant reeds, a shore that is utilised in many different ways and a giant turtle shell, or carapace, that is used in incredibly creative ways during the show. There is a cast of 46 acrobats, actors, musicians and singers in the show, each one at the top of their chosen field.

The Show
Wow is an overused word, as is unbelievable, but anything that makes your jaw hang open for large periods, is indeed unbelievable and, most definitely, wow. From the very first act, where acrobats, evoking ancient frogs in perfect costumes, fling themselves around and over and off bars with alarming dexterity. At one point there are four acrobats spinning at the same time, on two different bars, with precision timing and enormous skill. One minute in, I realise my mouth is hanging open … something only Cirque can do to me.
The fixed trapeze duo take to the heights and reinvent what you can do a trapeze. The music is also a star in this piece, with the acrobats doing ridiculous things, in perfect time to the beat. The audience gave several collective gasps when you were sure  they couldn’t possibly hold on. But they could, and did, with enormous effect.
The Tracker showed his skills with Devil Sticks, and an American Indian struts his stuff with hoops, creating many different shapes and moving them up and down his body at lightning speed. How he makes a globe out of hoops I will never know, but somehow he did.
For sheer “how the hell did they do that” moments, the five demure Chinese ladies who ride over the bridge – more on that later – on unicycles are unforgettable. Sitting up there in their divine costumes, big smiles all around, they pedal around the stage before unleashing an act of such skill, it’s hard to believe. They carry bowls on their heads, and flick them from their feet to their head, or from their feet to the other girls’ heads. They even do it backwards, and sideways, with unerring aim … all the while, pedalling. It is worth the ticket price just to see this act. It is that good.
Another highlight for me is the Russian Bars, where acrobats do amazing aerial feats before landing on a tiny bar, held by two other performers. They flip and spin and turn and leap, sometimes from bar to bar, and land perfectly. Every. Single. Time.
Then there’s the two impeccable ladies balancing spinning squares of material on their hands and feet, while lying upside down on a bejewelled chair, flinging the squares to each other with gay abandon.  Amazing strength is shown by a man balancing on an hour-glass shaped platform, rolling on it and under it at times, and the roller skating American Indians. But not just roller skating on the stage, they are skating on a teeny, tiny drum, spinning at a speed that would make my head explode. The male spins the female around at nauseating speed, and even spins her from a strap around his neck. How the hell they are not too dizzy to stand afterwards, I will never know.

The Set
In what isn’t that big a space, what the designers and engineers achieve with the set is mind-blowing. Trampolines in the floor, manholes that appear in the floor. Boats that appear as if on a river. Acrobats that appear from the rooftop, and then there’s the bridge. This thing is an engineering masterpiece. It extends like a bridge one minute, and then curls back on itself like a snake’s head the next, and even makes a circle in another act.

The Music
All Cirque du Soleil shows have live music, which gives them an edge and creates a massive point of difference. In Totem, the musicians and singers are drawn even further into the show and I think this really sets the show apart. The music is not just a backdrop for the incredible athleticism of the acts – it is very much front and centre – from the rhythmic tribal beats of the American Indian acts, to the percussion created on scientific beakers.
In conclusion, if you have never seen a Cirque du Soleil show – please, please go to see this one. And if you have seen a Cirque show before, then go back for another dose of feel good, awe inspiring entertainment from the masters.

Australian dates
Totem is in Sydney until x, Melbourne from 21 January, Brisbane from 10 April, Adelaide from 11 June and Perth from 31 July.

The future
Cirque du Soleil is not resting on its laurels, branching out all over the place with inspirational tentacles of spectacle and imagination. In 2015, they will open Avatar, a show developed with James Cameron. I, for one, cannot wait to see that.

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