The incredible thing about Cirque du Soleil is how they keep coming up with wondrous and creative ways to present what is in essence a circus show. This is a reinvention of the traditional circus show and it has won over millions of fans worldwide. The approach that the creative minds behind this show (Robert Lepage, Neilson Vignola and Guy Laliberté) is completely different from what anyone else in the world is doing. They are always trying what others would believe to be impossible.
The main theme behind TOTEM is the evolution of man from a creature that crawled to one that has managed to fly through space. All nations have their stories about creation and evolution. When the creative minds did some research they found out that despite the geographical distances the stories were similar. Many cultures and peoples use the turtle and its shell to tell the story of human evolution.
TOTEM is the name of the show in reference to the native equivalent of the family crest. Native Americans used totems to tell the stories of families. At the top of the totem is the family's animal symbol. In the show the totem alludes to the fact that within each one of us there is a link to the animal world. We began our existence as amphibians then became toads then apes then finally man. This evolution is represented in the show.
When you enter the now familiar blue and yellow tent the first thing your eyes are drawn to is the huge turtle shell in the front of the stage. Modern circuses have gone away from using animals (much to the satisfaction of animal rights groups), but TOTEM has reintroduced them. Not actual animals, but humans dressed as apes and chimpanzees showing the link between humans and animals. Animals are a large part of the human story.
Using traditional stories from the Canadian aboriginal population as well as those from Asia and Africa, the show begins with a character that reappears many times during the show, the Crystal Man. Descending from the top of the Grand Chapiteau tent and acting like a crystal ball the Crystal Man, whose costume is made up entirely of crystals and mirrors, descends towards the turtle shell which has been stripped to just bones and has many different performers in neon accented costume. It leads to the first act which is comprised of the costumed performers using a trampoline that is part of the middle of the stage and the bars of the turtle shell to do a tightly choreographed even bar routine.
Each act moves seamlessly into the next one for the just over 2 hours of the show. A live band and female and male vocalist accompany each act. Video projections are used throughout the show to be water to carry a huge raft or ice that natives walk across.
None of the acts are boring, but some definitely stand out. Like 5 Asian woman on tall unicycles that perform an act that involves choreography and metal bowls, two green clad trapeze artists (Louis-David Simoneau and Rosalie Ducharme), a Native male and female couple clad all in white who do an act on the top of a large drum on roller skates, a Native male who does a traditional dance with multiple hoops, and neon costumed astronauts who perform an acrobatic act on beams.
This is a huge show with its $30 million budget, 52 performers from 19 countries, 100 support staff, and 62 transport trucks. Despite its largesse the show remembers what is important to all human beings – that we are all spiritually connected to the planet we live on. Using myth and symbolism, the story of the evolution of man is told from its beginnings to the urge to fly. It is about life, evolution and finding a balance told in an awe-inspiring and entertaining way. Once again Cirque du Soleil goes way beyond your typical circus into creating a whole new world for those in attendance.