REVIEW: Cirque Du Soleil’s TOTEM

A visual and aural delight

By Kim Edwards

There is a grandeur in a Cirque Du Soleil production that is rarely encountered elsewhere. Everything in this renowned international theatrical company is conducted on a magnificent and monumental scale, and their latest Melbourne offering Totem upholds their reputation. The iconic blue-and-yellow circus tent dwarfed the gathering crowds on opening night this week, both inside and out, and the evening was an elaborate and grandiose procession of world-class talent.

Totem Photo Credit OSA Images

Totem draws on themes of evolution, primitivism and cultural difference and development in bringing together a series of diverse and often death-defying circus acts. This thread is rather tenuous: a few performances felt thematically clumsy while still being excellent in themselves, although others were wonderfully profound and effective in exploring the idea of totems and human, environmental and artistic progress. I particularly loved the animals at play in the opening bars routine, the quaint and gentle clowning of Philippe Thibaudeau‘s Fisherman, the ‘Amerindian’ hoop dancing of Eric Hernandez and Shandien Larance, and the playful body-paint space suits of the Russian Bars troupe.

Kym Barrett‘s costuming and Carl Fillion‘s set designs are utterly glorious, with the attention to detail, the exciting use of colour, texture, light and projections, and the dynamic stage itself, with the skeletal shell centrepiece/chandelier, and the arching, curling gantry bridge. I was disappointed in the first act that I could hardly see the musicians led by Charles Dennard Jr. in their upstage bed of reeds, and was delighted when their wonderful work was more foregrounded after intermission: the scientific apparatus that became musical instruments was sensational.

My personal (and crowd) favourite was the unicyclists’ performance, but as with so many of these acts, the unexpected and often spectacular twists to what you anticipate will be a familiar circus trick are a joy to discover, and I don’t want to spoil the surprises here. However, the costumes and props that evoked votive offerings and elegant tea ceremonies were beautifully apt, and the concept and the performers themselves were astounding.

For me, Totem was not as a profoundly emotional experience as other Cirque Du Soleil creations I’ve encountered, but it is as always highly entertaining, and beautifully wrought and executed. Although tickets are pricey, with a large and extraordinary cast, a remarkable venue, and stunning technical and production values, it is money is well-spent.

Totem is playing at Flemington Racecourse until March 29, 2015. Tickets: