Cirque du Soleil

Under the Big Top at Northshore, Hamilton

April 10 – May 24 1015


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


We are the primeval waters from which we have emerged…


There’s always a buzz around a Cirque premiere, but this time is different; the atmosphere is electric! Thanks to Brisbane Publicist, Kath Rose (she is perpetually awake and working; you will have seen her as a dazzling, brightly dressed BLUR at all the best events in the city) Poppy and I were invited to join a pre-show “behind the seams” backstage tour. See what they did there? You can see our behind the scenes pics on InstagramTotem’s Tour Publicist, Francis Jalbert (equally as dazzling, perfectly suited to the role, raising the bar by Olympic standards as far as male publicists go. Impressive casting hiring there…) talked about the creative process, with Director Robert LePage at the helm, shaping the show and bringing in the disciplines to best “fit” the production concept.



Each unique act in Totem takes us through a particular aspect of the evolution of the human body or of civilization or the experience of a human life.






“It’s all about evocation… It’s art. Everybody can have their own interpretation.”


Francis Jalbert, Totem Tour Publicist



Cirque du Soleil TOTEM Dress Rehearsal



The opening of the show sees Crystal Man (David Resnick from the USA) descend in rich beams of light that make a human disco ball of him; he’s a legitimate living work of art in this transient state. He unlocks the ancient secret of sacred ritual in a variation of Indonesia’s Kecak “fire and trance” Dance. The dance stems from sanghyang, the notion that during the performance, spiritual entities known as hyangs will take possession of the dancers’ bodies. I was fifteen, mesmerized, when I saw this dance for the first time in Bali. In Totem, we enjoy the ritual for just a few moments as it’s performed inside a giant tortoise shell structure (the tortoise is an age-old symbol of creation and wisdom – think of The Neverending Story!), which lifts into the air. Is this the sun rising, rather than setting? The Kecak Dance is traditionally performed before sunset. It doesn’t matter; there is acrobatic action beneath it!



This is a beautifully measured and entirely unexpected opening to a show exploring evolution, connection and beauty. It’s as if Crystal Man has been created to embody a new – or revived – Cirque spirit.



Poppy and I have seen the ecosystem, the little city created by the hardworking Cirque crew before. Whenever my sister does a stint as Stage Manager for a Cirque show she takes us on a similar tour to meet all those folk clad in “blacks”; the people behind the people we see on stage. It’s a very intimate experience to see first hand, the training and warm up areas, the artists training and warming up (and sometimes practicing acts that are not even a part of the show because Cirque supports all aspects of the development of their discipline), to hold a costume and feel its weight (Crystal Man’s bodysuit with its 4 500 Swarovski crystals!), and gaze upon the MAC makeup drawers (ooh!), and masks (ahhh!) and headpieces (wow!) and props (oh migod!). Of course this insight allows another level of understanding when we see the show. Simultaneously, I appreciate that we’re watching with new awe and admiration, and I have the knowledge that there is a crystal or two missing from the costume! Don’t worry, it’s all about running repairs – nobody backstage actually appears to stop working, ever – and every costume is replaced every 6 months.






I love Kym Barrett’s designs for this show. Barrett’s a Brisbane girl (known for her contribution to The Matrix trilogy, The Amazing Spider-Man and Jupiter Ascendingand her combination of sparkles, glow-in-the-dark Australian Indigenous traditional patterns and natural elements is truly inspired. You might never have considered it but the hard, crushable features sewn into some of the costumes, such as the cowrie shells, are actually necessarily silicon, because CIRCUS.


Just as the acts themselves pay homage to the cultures that have inspired them, the costumes honour where they’ve come from. It’s the most exquisite collection we’ve seen here.






Once the glittering green amphibious creatures have emerged from the primordial mud, we’re introduced to primates and Cro-Magnons. We see the evolutionary stages in one succinct scene, which ultimately suggests that perhaps we’ve not come quite so far as we like to think! More familiar looking Neanderthals (France’s Gael Ouisse & Yann Arnaud, and Finland’s Olli Torkkel) make their way down to the beach to impress whatever passes by, which happens to be the most beautiful muscle-bound woman on the planet! Holy! In an awesome display of strength and grace, Ukranian Alevtyna Titarenko reverses the traditional seduction scene, deftly steals it with her superb performance on the rings and takes off with an Italian clown (Jon Monastero from the USA)!



It was spectacular. They were STRONG.

Henry Long



The clowns don’t miss a mention; their acts are the short, sweet and very funny transitions between the more physical acts. These guys also provide the pre-show entertainment, mixing with the crowd and – this is new since our last Cirque experience, when even before the show I’m sure photography was not encouraged – happily posing for selfies with audience members. Obviously, as you see from their Insta gallery and Twitter & Facebook footprints, Cirque is another company who totally get the value of their social media presence, and the advantage of their audience doing a large part of their marketing!


Just be sure to use the hashtags so they can include your stellar work on the social media wall at interval! #totem #cirquedusoleil






The traditional Amerindian Hoop Dance has seen some evolution itself. The hoops represent many things (snakes, the wings of eagles, butterflies etc), and unlike hula “hooping”, modesty is key; the dancer wears traditional dress. In Totem, of course the dance and the costumes are modified, with respect, to suit the creative concept of the show. These dances, performed by Shandien Sonwai Larance (USA) & Eric Hernandez (USA), are beautiful, soulful pieces with a steady heartbeat that reminds us to keep challenging every pre-conceived notion about cultures that are not our own.



Having said that, Poppy just loved the sensation of the drumming in her chest and told me she remembered seeing a Hoop Dance at The Dreaming one year “when I was just a kid and hadn’t seen all that many shows” #whatevs



Reaping abundant harvests, we sow seeds of gratitude.






The ultimate balancing act, five unicyclists (China’s Hao Yuting, He Xuedi, Wu Yurong, Yang Ji & Bai Xiangjie) kick and catch and balance brass bowls in perfect synchronization whilst cycling and SMILING. This is an incredible act, eliciting gasps from the opening night audience in Brisbane. It has to be seen to be believed!



We also marvel at the most elegant and athletic foot juggling ever (Marina & Svetlana Tsodikova from Belarus), LED lit vortex juggling (Chris Chiappini from the USA) and human juggling: the incredible, death defying Russian Bars. These acrobats, in their black lit bodysuits featuring Barrett’s take on those stunning Aboriginal designs, are the cosmonauts of the show, taking evolution to the next stage, daring to go where no acrobat has gone before.






As impressive as each act is, my favourite is the Lovebirds (French Guilhem Cauchois & Canadian Sarah Tessier). These two perform a fixed trapeze routine that goes far beyond traditional circus, bringing sky-high drama and simple, subtle, beautifully coy comedy to the story their characters share; a gorgeous young couple meet for the first time (in an extraordinarily beautiful golden wash! Never underestimate the value of a good lighting state!). And speaking of young and gorgeous, is this not the youngest, most runway-worthy Cirque company of all time?! Talk about inspiring! #orintimidating #putthemonacatwalkalready


That reminds me, when does Baz get a go at a Cirque show? #justasking





The dynamic between the trapeze duo was really interesting to watch. It seemed really playful.

Ayla Long





Extraordinary love knows no bounds.








Lovers – rollerskaters – disembark from a canoe in a projected land of ice and freezing, rushing water (the footage was shot in Iceland!), spinning together on a tiny platform until “they finally unite in the ultimate act of trust”! It’s exciting and terrifying and thrillifying to watch these two (Spain’s Denise Garcia-Sorta & Italy’s Massimiliano Medini). Not EVEN in Xanadu did we ever see such sexy freakin’ rollerskating, although we saw the spinning on the tiny platform. There will be a resurgence in rollerskate sales, let me tell you. (And while we’re here, let’s remember, how gorgeous is Olivia in all her Blondie-ness? And how good is ELO?! My dad will tell you! AND I never saw it so I’ve never understood…but how did the stage production fail? Perhaps Cirque could produce a winning version? Just a thought!).



If creation is borne of vibration, then music is life’s ultimate form.



A Cirque show is nothing without its musical score and Totem sounds fantastic. Yes, we bought the CD (we still buy CDs). From a lush bamboo forest, which becomes grass and later, with the changes in lighting states, reeds, the vocalists (the UK’s Esi Kwesiwa Acquaah-Harrison & Canada’s Christian Leveau) and musicians come into view from time to time, offering pure magic throughout, from Composers BOB & BILL (Guy Dubuc & Marc Lessard with additional lyrics by Christian Laveau).



Often, an opening night audience is a little more reserved than those that follow and I wonder whether or not the finale – a joyous Bollywood style celebration of cultures – will get people to their feet and dancing for the rest of the season. As you would expect, my Bollywood fairy princess party animal Poppy leapt up at the first opportunity (having discovered three acts into the show that her wooden heels made an awesome sound on the floor beneath our feet!), and stomped and showered everyone with her own shimmering love and radiant smile. This was a fitting finale; vibrant, contagious, unadulterated joy. Clearly, we all need more Bollywood (and Cirque du Soleil!) in our lives!



It’s impossible to choose which act was the best!

Ayla Long






Totem is the most evocative of the Cirque shows we’ve seen in this country since Quidam. And I’ll be honest; Quidam was my first. You never forget your first! Totem has more substance than Ovo and is as much fun as Saltimbanco, never actually bombarding us with a particularly profound or heavy message but rather, painting a picture and implying it, allowing us to peer into its world of heightened natural beauty and history and humour and wonder, from which we can then take what we need. JUST LIKE REAL LIFE. It’s light and gentle and playful and lovely in every aspect, from its ingenious design solutions to its unique acts. It will feed your soul and lift your spirits. I would LOVE to see this one again. (Poppy’s birthday coincides with closing night so you never know…).



If you need to disappear for an afternoon or a night, unwind and relax at a show, or entertain family members, friends or special guests, or if you’re simply weighing up what to spend the play money on this month, don’t hesitate… get thee to Totem. A Cirque du Soleil show is an experience you’ll cherish. And Totem is exceptional entertainment. Take a break from this weary one and lose yourself in Cirque’s world for a night!



Totem is about life.




Guy Laliberte – Guide & Founder


Robert LePage – Writer & Director


Gilles Ste-Croiz – Artistic Guide


Neilson Vignola – Director of Creation


Luc Tremblay – Senior Director


Neelanthi Vadivel – Artistic Director


Kym Barrett – Costume Designer


Nathalie J. Simard – Makeup designer


Carl Fillion – Set & props Designer


Etienne Boucher – Lighting designer


Pedro Pires – Projection Content Designer


Jacques Boucher – Sound Designer


Jeffrey Hall – Choreographer


Florence Pot – Acrobatic Performance Designer



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