Just as Cirque du Soleil’s latest touring show Totem represents the evolution of Mankind, so does the show itself trace the evolution of Cirque du Soleil itself- arguably Montreal’s most famous, beloved and successful artistic export. Totem follows the human desire to progress from the sludge of our murky beginnings to the pinnacles of human aspiration…
The tragicomedy of our universal quest through time and space is represented under Totem’s specially-designed grand chapiteau (Big Top) by dancers, acrobats and clowns (dressed as Amerindian tribes, as well as businessmen and scientists) in intricate, evocative costumes. Through amazing feats of skill and agility, they interpret the various phases of human aspiration- providing an alternative, universal creation myth for mankind.
With Totem, Cirque cycles back to what it does best, presenting ideas about the meaning of life as a mélange of motifs and narratives, breathtaking ensemble vignettes that recall Cirque’s roots in circus traditions, and much more. Here, genre-busting multimedia projections, sets that are engineering marvels and the skill of the performers combine to play out the vision of Totems’ creators: a feast of movement, sound, colour and action that’ll make your head swim.
Totem is the latest of Cirque’s “Big Top” shows, and the first touring show created by multidisciplinary artist Robert Lepage. Lepage is one of Canada’s most famous theatre and film directors (he was awarded our most prestigious honour, the Governor-General’s Award, in 2009). In the ‘90s, Lepage created two stage shows for Peter Gabriel, and his first film, Le Confessional, was shown at Cannes for the Director’s Fortnight. Lepage previously created Kà, a permanent Vegas show, for Cirque- with Totem, he wanted to challenge himself to design and create a Big Top show, to go back to Cirque du Soleil’s roots and the possibilities of the genre.
Totem began its life cycle last year with a stand in Montreal, its birthplace, before taking off to Amsterdam. Now, a second run in Montreal this summer gives audiences a chance to experience it.
“[Totem] expresses the evolution of mankind,” says Lepage about the narrative for his show. “How does mankind go from being something slithery in a lake to standing upright?”
The story of man’s evolution from swamp creature to modern aspirant is told through sixteen acts, in which trampoline artists, hoop dancers, clowns, chinese unicyclists, trapeze artists, jugglers, roller skaters and Russian bar acrobats (among others) are dressed as frogs, simians, businessmen and others. According to Lepage, this progression is about man “recognizing that he is not just part of the human species but also part of the evolutionary chain.”
According to Lepage, Totem is “entering the Cirque through a different doorway”—the universal proto-mythology the company is famous for, taken to a whole new level.
Cirque du Soleil: Totem, June 15 to July 31, 2011