I've been a fan of Cirque du Soleil since the very first show I attended in Santa Monica nearly 30 years ago. Cirque du Soleil never fails to entertain however the new TOTEMTM show surpasses all my memories of the fabulous shows I've seen over the many years that I have been a fan. Breathtaking, on the edge of my seat, nothing dull, scary, exciting, amazing, impossible, incredible. These are but some of the adjectives I could've used to describe the show I saw last night. As time has progressed Cirque du Soleil has continued in its quest to be the perfect entertainment for kids of all ages. The entire evening was so well organized and so well-planned from the offsite parking to the quick trip to the venue using the shuttles to the speed of admission at the venue, the pre show entertainment, the food the drinks and most importantly the amazing, incredible show itself. The show includes an intermission which was perfectly timed to occur at the exact right moment even the bathroom lines were organized so that no one had to wait in line very long. The beauty of the show was that there was nothing that lagged, there was nothing slow there was nothing other than one amazement after another the blend of humor and nail-biting fear for the performers safety is a rare blend achieved completely and thoroughly at this TOTEMTM show. My guest had never seen a Cirque show before and every time I looked at her there was nothing but amazement in her eyes and smiles on her face, she absolutely loved the experience and it was wonderful to share it with her. I heartily recommend anyone of any age to get tickets and attend the show before it moves away from LA.
Written and Directed by Robert Lepage
TOTEMTM traces the fascinating journey of the human species from its original amphibian state to its ultimate desire to fly. The characters evolve on a stage evoking a giant turtle, the symbol of origin for many ancient civilizations.
Inspired by many founding myths, TOTEM illustrates, through a visual and acrobatic language, the evolutionary progress of species. Somewhere between science and legend TOTEM explores the ties that bind Man to other species, his dreams and his infinite potential.
The word “totem” contains the idea of the order of species. We carry in our bodies the potential of all species, all the way to our desire to fly—like the thunderbird at the top of the totem pole.
Kym Barrett’s initial approach to the TOTEM costume designs was rooted in documentary-based reality. This process entailed research into real animals, plants and birds as well as traditional cultural and tribal designs to source her fanciful, inventive concoctions.
Her other major preoccupation was the show’s theme of evolution, which led her to emphasize the importance of the human body at every opportunity. She points to the example of a forest populated by butterflies and frogs, saying it was important to her to show the human body as part of the overall visual mosaic of the scene.
The third show theme reflected in the costumes is the cycle of the seasons, which underscores the importance of nature to the show. Neon-bright colours, vivid, shiny fabrics and playful details lend a summer atmosphere to the Bollywood-inspired beach scene. To suggest a time of harvest and the abundance of fall, the unicyclists’ costumes feature seed pods, flowers, trees and leaves. And the two roller-skaters are dressed in white and silver to help create a winter tableau.
To recreate such a broad range of textures, colours and markings found in nature, Kym concentrated on the treatment of fabrics rather than on the fabrics themselves: advanced printing techniques, fluorescent pigments, mirror fragments and crystals allowed her to “paint” on canvases as varied as Lycra and leather, with results that constantly interact with and adapt to the show’s ever-changing lighting.
- The Crystal Man—a recurring character—represents the life force. His dazzling costume (literally) is entirely covered of small mirrors and crystals. The glittering mobile mosaic is made up of about 4,500 reflective components on a stretch velvet leotard.
- The Hoop Dancer’s costume is inspired by the traditional, ceremonial clothing of a number of North American Indian tribes, rather than an accurate portrayal of any one culture. It includes a Hopi cross and a headdress, and features extensive use of leather.
- In the opening scene the marsh is populated by fish and frogs. Their patterns and colours came from real fish and frogs— including the most poisonous frog in the Amazon jungle—and are replicated by the pixilation of the image in the screen printing process. The textures of the fabrics are also a close match to the skin of fish and frogs found in nature. The end result resembles a community of human amphibians.
- Each unicyclist has her own look, but together they form an integrated unit. The base costumes are printed in earth tones, with small details sewn onto them—including bolts and screws as well as feathers and insects. The line of the costumes and the stylized tutus create flirty ballerina silhouettes.
- The costumes worn by the foot-juggling duo are based on Lycra body stockings. Each is adorned with 3,500 crystals and the 2 headdresses are each encrusted with a further 1,000.
- The Cosmonauts are wearing two costumes in one: when they first appear (under black light), their body-hugging Lycra suits glow dramatically in the dark, but as soon as the stage lights kick in, their look is completely transformed. Some of the printed motifs recall Mayan drawings, and each artist is wearing an individual variation on the theme.
Set Design and Projections
The Turtle - Support of the World
At the heart of many founding myths that live on in a variety of legends and oral traditions, the turtle represents the earth and carries the entire weight of the world on its shell. This totemic animal is also omnipresent in the scenic environment of TOTEM.
The large oval framework on stage represents the skeletal substructure of a huge turtle shell that serves both as a decorative set element and as acrobatic equipment. At the start of the show it is covered with a cloth printed with the shell markings of a forest turtle, reproduced through macro photography. Depending on the artistic needs, the skeleton is raised to the top of the tent or opened at an angle like an enormous shell.
An organic world of multiple transformations
The visual environment of TOTEM is an organic world, a marsh lined with reeds near an island (the stage), on which images are projected. Set Designer Carl Fillion gave it curves and non-linear forms to reflect the natural world.
Tilted slightly forward, the image marsh acts both as a stage entrance and as a projection surface. Through the magic of moving images it becomes a virtual swamp, a river source, a marsh, a lake, an ocean, a volcanic island, a pond and a starry sky.
The images in the projections are drawn from nature and were shot for the production in various parts of the world, including Iceland, Hawaii and Guatemala. Even the images of boiling lava were filmed by Image Content Designer Pedro Pires.
The “Scorpion Bridge” serving as a mobile platform connects the marsh to the scene features variable geometry, allowing it to adapt to each tableau. In one of the clown numbers, for example, it becomes the prow of a boat then rises to become a plane in flight, and finally a rocket taking off. In another scene, the bridge is configured to look like a vertical totem pole.
The concept of the Scorpion Bridge was loosely based on a retractable pedestrian bridge in London. Built of steel and weighing 10,000 lbs, its 8 powerful mineral oil hydraulic motors allow it to rise, descend, extend, retract and curl in on itself like a scorpion’s tail. Its reflective surfaces, which shine like mirrors, are made of stainless steel plates. The base of the bridge houses lighting equipment, a laser, speakers and cameras. During the show, the bridge is monitored by an operator using four infrared cameras.
Set and Projection Closeups
- The border of the stage recalls the plastron (underside) of a turtle. The motifs on the surface of the stage itself are a collage of hand-drawn images inspired by the patterns on the plastrons of several turtle species.
- Bordering the marsh upstage, the reeds conceal the artists and some set elements before they enter, as well as serving as a projection surface. To save weight and facilitate storage on tour, the reeds are inflatable.
- During the rings trio number, the Scorpion Bridge turns into an Indian carpet that unrolls on the beach in a reference to the Bollywood aesthetic that inspired the overall look of this scene.
- Some of the projections on the marsh interact with the movements of the artists in real time. Infrared cameras positioned above the stage and around the marsh detect their movement and produce kinetic effects such as ripples, splashes and reflections in the water and the flames.
- Photographs taken by Guy Laliberté during his 2009 Poetic Social Mission aboard the International Space Station are integrated in the show.
- The turtle skeleton weighs 2,700 lbs (1,225 kg), includes 2 horizontal bars and is completely covered in a non-slip finish.
- The unicycles are 7 ft (2 m) tall but very light, which makes them easier to manoeuvre down the ramp at the beginning of the act.
Guy Laliberté was born in Québec City in 1959. An accordionist, stilt-walker and fire-eater, he founded Quebec’s first internationally renowned circus with the support of a small group of accomplices. A bold visionary Guy Laliberté recognized and cultivated the talents of the street performers from the Fête foraine de Baie-Saint-Paul and created Cirque du Soleil in 1984.
Guy Laliberté was the first to orchestrate the marriage of cultures and artistic and acrobatic disciplines that is the hallmark of Cirque du Soleil. Since 1984, he has guided the creative team through the creation of every show and contributed to elevating the circus arts to the level of the great artistic disciplines.
Cirque du Soleil has become an international organization, as much in terms of its makeup as in the scope of its activities and influence. Guy Laliberté now heads an organization with activities on five continents.
In October 2007, Guy Laliberté entered into a second lifetime commitment by creating ONE DROP which fights poverty around the world by providing sustainable access to safe water. This new dream stems from the knowledge that the right to water is key to the survival of individuals and communities all over the world and from the values which have been at the heart of Cirque du Soleil since its inception: the belief that life gives back what you have given and even the smallest gesture will make a difference.
Awards and distinctions
Université Laval (Québec) awarded an honorary doctorate to Guy Laliberté in 2008. The year before, Guy Laliberté took the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for all three levels: Quebec, Canada and international. In 2004, he received the Order of Canada, the highest distinction in the country, from the Governor General of Canada. The same year, he was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2003, he was honoured by the Condé Nast group as part of the Never Follow Program, a tribute to creators and innovators. In 2001, he was named a Great Montrealer by the Académie des Grands Montréalais. In 1997, Guy Laliberté received the Ordre national du Québec, the highest distinction awarded by the Government of Quebec.
- Since its world-premiere in Montreal on April 22, 2010, TOTEMTM has visited close to 15 cities in Canada, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and in the United States and has charmed more than 2 million spectators.
- TOTEM marks Robert Lepage’s second collaboration with Cirque du Soleil, following KÀ at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which is approaching its eight year anniversary.
- TOTEM “hybrid show” is the first Cirque du Soleil Big Top show to be created in such a way that it can be adapted to the reality of arenas and other venues from the very outset.
Cast and Crew:
- The cast of TOTEM comprises 47 artists from 15 countries— Belarus, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, The United Kingdom and The United States of America.
- The crew is composed of 73 supporting staff members and technicians. The employees represent 9 countries—Australia, Canada, China, France, New Zealand, Russia, Switzerland, The United Kingdom and The United States of America.
- There are 120 touring employees and artists with 48 official accompanying members (spouses and family). So a total of 168 on the road!
- A total of 18 children are on tour between the ages of 6 months and 17 years old. Currently, the youngest tour member is 6 months and the eldest is 57!
- The tour relies on local suppliers for many essentials such as food, bio-diesel fuel, dry ice, machinery, food & beverages for patrons, banks, delivery services, recycling, and waste management—thereby injecting significant money into the local economy. However, due to the use of electricity generators; the structure is fully self-sustainable with the exception of connecting water/sewerage and telecommunications in each city.
- During an engagement in a city, over 150 people are hired in each market for a variety of jobs, including ushers, box office ticket sellers, corporate hospitality hosts, food and beverage attendants, merchandising sales staff, kitchen attendants and prep-cooks, janitors and a receptionist. We also employ over 100 local laborers to assist with the site set-up and tear down.
- The kitchen employs one touring kitchen manager and three touring cooks.
- The school on-site has three full-time certified teachers and nine students: eight children of touring artists studying in either French or English and one minor Chinese Unicyclist studying in Mandarin.
- Two performance medicine therapists travel with the tour
Learn more at the Todem Website