TOTEM: CIRQUE DU SOLEIL is breathtaking

(Left) Russians and their fantastic acrobatics on the bars.

TOTEM CIRQUE DU SOLEIL written and directed by Robert Lepage. Musical score by Marc Lessard and Guy Dubuc's. Sets and props by Carl Fillion. Projections by Pedro Pires. Costume design by Kym Barrett. Choreography by Jeffrey Hall. WHERE: Under the big tent at PacBell Parking lot, San Francisco.

It is always a pleasure to attend a Cirque du Soleil performance under the big blue tent. This pleasure is obviously shared by all ages with many attendees making it a family affair. For the opening night performance the friendly staff circulated with finger food while the crowd visited the food bar and souvenir kiosks. This convivially atmosphere continues after you enter the stage area as roaming performers jovially interact with the audience inducing chuckles with their minor high-jinks. This sets the mood for an awe inspiring evening.

All the Cirque shows have a theme and Totem takes us on a journey exploring the origins of man rising from the primordial water to eventual soaring into the heavens. Although there are unambiguous segments portraying that intent most of the acts are there to thrill us with the superb athleticism of the performing acrobatics. The key word is ‘soar’ and they brilliantly do so, above the stage and at times across the audience.

The overall look is beautiful with Pedro Pires’ projections on an upstage circular disk that morphs into breaking waves, calm waters, lava flow and whatever is needed. That disk opens up to reveal fantastic props and is a viaduct for entrance and exits. The show depends greatly on technology and the onstage gymnasts must have a great deal of trust in the behind the scene manipulators.

There are many stunning performances beginning with the opening when, after the turtle shell is removed, Olympic quality acrobats fly between parallel bars placed about 10 feet apart while tumblers dive in and out of the half-dome shell. As always, the acrobatics are impressive. When the shell is removed it is time for the trapeze experts to show their stuff before five Chinese unicyclists maintain their balance while flinging golden bowls from and to each other’s heads. Two women spin limp circular carpets on every available hand and foot while one woman hand balances on the other’s head.

There is a courtship ballet on the trapeze with breath-taking falls, contortions and catches, ancient art of hoop dancing, acrobats flying high from flexible bars held on shoulders ( and even the forehead!) while the smaller one executes astonishing feats on similarly balanced towering poles. As always, marvelous jugging acts abound. Add to that the precarious roller skaters who do their stuff on a relatively small circular platform as he spins her faster and faster never allowing you to catch your breath.

Comedy acts balance the hectic non-stop acrobatics with clowns racing with speed boats, a moving tableau of Darwin’s theory of evolutions with apes morphing into Neanderthals and finally into an astonished business suited man. The best humor involves a modern (??), no too bright, man in a row boat fishing in the surrounding projected water.

The number of vignettes taking place with a live on stage band hidden behind inflatable swamp reeds are to numerous to elucidate adequately. However the few listed above should be stimulus enough to send you out to the big blue tent for a amazing evening. Running time for each of the two acts is about one hour with a 30 minute intermission for you to peruse the goodies in the foyer.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of