Dazzling performances, kooky characters – Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM is pure entertainment

Celebrating 30 years of Cirque! Mayor Gregor Robertson proclaims June 16 Cirque de Soleil day in Vancouver

Celebrating 30 years of Cirque! Mayor Gregor Robertson proclaims June 16 Cirque du Soleil day in Vancouver

If you drove by the corner of Howe and Georgia today you might have noticed a mini-circus taking place. Today Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson proclaimed June 16 Cirque du Soleil Day in honour of Cirque du Soleil’s 30th anniversary. Some of the stars of Cirque’s current Vancouver showing – TOTEM – were on hand to show passersby what Cirque du Soleil magic is all about.

Earlier this month I was invited to attend TOTEM and tour backstage to learn about some of the nuts and bolts of how a world class Cirque show comes together.

I’m a bit of a Cirque newbie, this was my only second Cirque du Soleil show and my first ever circus experience under the Grand Chapiteau (my first Cirque show was Zumanity in Las Vegas). I walked away that night completely dazzled by TOTEM’s agile performers, gorgeous costumes and kooky characters. I highly recommend seeing TOTEM before it’s final Vancouver performance on July 6th. 

La Grande Chapiteau

Le Grand Chapiteau

TOTEM traces the beginnings of humans through evolution and various cultural creation stories. TOTEM also explores what binds us and the species we share the planet with. The show is a series of dreamlike sequences portraying vignettes such as Native American hoop dances, suspended bar acrobatics and synchronized unicycles. The scenes are tied together by comedic moments and clownish displays.

As a linear thinker and writer who focuses on story lines and chronology a lot, the first half hour or so of TOTEM felt a bit all over the place. Luckily my date was a Cirque veteran. Seeing my confused look , she whispered some great advice: ‘Miranda just relax. It’s a circus. It’s meant to entertain, make you think a little and most of all, have fun.’ Once I heeded her advice and gave up my attachment to plot I focused more on the amazing feats of strength, talent and amazingness in front of me rather than the non-chronological narrative.

TOTEM's performers are from all over the globe. L-R Uli from Finland, Sarah from Quebec, my date Lauren, Miranda, Umi from Japan and Essi from Ghana/England.

TOTEM’s performers are from all over the globe. L-R Uli from Finland, Sarah from Quebec, my date Lauren, Me, Umi from Japan and Essi from Ghana/England.

What probably impressed me the most about TOTEM was the teamwork and trust embodied by the performers. You can tell this is a tight knit crew who have travelled the world together for the last four years performing in Canada, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and in the United States for more than 2 million spectators.

From the original scene with nimble frog men on the turtle shell to the dangling human disco-ball and twirling roller skaters TOTEM acts are precise, stylish and all done in magical synchronization. I won’t give away too much of the plot because I want you to have your own Cirque experience. So instead, I thought I would share some of what I learned about TOTEM that night during our backstage tour.

TOTEM: behind the magic

About 170 people tour with TOTEM – 115 of which are Cirque du Soleil employees and the other 55 include spouses and children of employees.

The cast of TOTEM comprises 45 performing artists from 16 countries—Belarus, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.

The hoop dancers in TOTEM are from American Native tribes. The female hoop dancer Shandien Larance is from Arizona and is of Hopi, Navajo, Tewa and Assiniboine descent.

All of TOTEM’s costumes are made in Montreal. There are three wardrobe staff who tour with TOTEM and they hired three Vancouver-based wardrobe staffers.

Performers put on their own make up and on average it takes about two hours to complete their look.

TOTEM is a family affair. There are three teachers employed by Cirque du Soleil to teach the 11 school-age children of TOTEM performers. Their lessons are based on Quebec provincial curriculum.

If you want to ‘join the circus’ you need to check out the ‘jobs’ section of Cirque du Soleil’s website and apply. Cirque also sends scouts out to the showbiz meccas like New York, Los Angeles and London to recruit up and coming performers. Open auditions are held in Montreal.

To buy tickets or learn more about TOTEM visit their website. Happy 30th anniversary Cirque du Soleil!

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