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Cirque du Soleil brings TOTEM to Toronto

Posted by Keith Bennie / August 18, 2011

Cirque du Soleil TorontoThe world's premier circus troupe, Cirque du Soleil, returns to Toronto with TOTEM, an ambitious presentation that traces the evolution of humankind from amphibian state to its desire to explore the skies. The show captivates with unbelievable acrobatic feats and dazzles with incredible visuals from the first moment an acrobat drops from the rigging.

TOTEM features the talent of 52 artists from 18 different countries. At the project's helm is writer and director Robert Lepage, the internationally renowned theatre director from Quebec who created Cirque's Las Vegas show KÀ. Lepage has a fondness for image narrative — storytelling through visuals — which marries well with the spectacular nature of circus performance.

Cirque du Soleil TorontoThe show is sweeping in its scope. As a picture of "the journey of humankind," it considers our evolution from primate, the various types of geography on our globe, the diversity of the world's cultures, and the sustainability of our resources. Thankfully for viewers, these themes are suggested in the characters, staging, and design elements that comprise each act, rather than expressed in a linear narrative.

The themes are found in metaphors and relationships, but are positioned fluidly enough to allow the audience to enjoy the spectacle that is the hallmark of the company. And the spectacle is surely impressive. The show can be loosely divided into circus performances and clown lazzis (short comic sketches). The circus performances showcase professionals at the height of their careers.

Cirque du Soleil TorontoWhile all of the major acts are remarkable for their death-defying disregard of heights or for their putative impossibility, there are a few that leave the jaw dropped further down the neck. Unicycles and Bowls has to be my favourite of the night. The title of the act says it all. Five unicyclists juggle metal bowls with their feet eventually catching them on their heads without using their hands. The display of balance and concentration is astounding.

Also memorable is the Russian troupe that scales the height of the big top in an act called Perches. For the act's finale, a member of the troupe balances a thirty foot long pole on his forehead, while an acrobat stands upside down at the top. The same troupe closes out the show in beautiful florescent body suits doing flips and jumps on the Russian Bars.

Cirque du Soleil TorontoThe lazzis feature a collection of strange but endearing characters interacting with the circus acts. A Darwinian figure is seen studying primates, an obnoxious Italian shmoozer chats up the spectators, and a deadpan fisherman drains a lake of its water. The sketches lean on physical comedy with very little spoken word — a secret to Cirque's international success.

Unfortunately, with the calibre of circus performance being so adrenaline-inducing, these smaller more comedic performances just don't measure up. While the scenes showcase the incredible technical abilities of the clowns, their moments suffer from being the small fish in the big tank. The solo performance that did stand out, however, is the Amerindian Hoops Dancer who so gracefully traverses the stage in two sequences.

To describe Cirque du Soleil in words is akin to catching fire in a bottle — you extinguish its true essence. Its impact can be witnessed in how you react while watching. At half a dozen moments during the show, the word "wow" escaped my lips seemingly of its own accord. It demands such an instinctive response, and promises the greatest show on earth.

Cirque du Soleil TorontoCirque du Soleil's TOTEM runs until October 9 under the Grand Chapiteau at the Port Lands (Cherry St. and Commissioners St.). Tickets are $70 to $150+.

Images courtesy of Cirque du Soleil



umm / August 18, 2011 at 09:49 am
$70 for nosebleed seats? LOL!!
LJ replying to a comment from umm / August 18, 2011 at 09:56 am
It's not cheap to produce these shows and its gotten rave reviews. Laffs tickets are twice as much and much less entertaining
LD / August 18, 2011 at 09:56 am
I went! It was amazing! I had never been before, and, I do think it's worth the cost.
Aaron / August 18, 2011 at 09:57 am
Does seem a little pricey - at least for the least expensive tickets. It is I believe a tent though, so there really aren't any bad seats.
Dmitri / August 18, 2011 at 10:01 am
The price does seem high, but that is how much art of this grade should cost. Have you been to opera lately? Anyways, I'm not a big fan of dishing out my full paycheque for a night of fun, but I'm not a fan of shitty entertainment that we get for cheap all over the place here in North America either. Maybe there's a happy medium somewhere... but then again, who wants to be mediocre.
cee replying to a comment from umm / August 18, 2011 at 10:16 am
Well then go stream last week's True Blood. I saw it from cheap seats and it is something I will be thinking back to and taking inspiration from for a long time.
Bel / August 18, 2011 at 10:17 am
It is worth every penny! I nearly cried, that's how phenomenal it was. Such an amazing presentation to a clever storyline!
Rasters / August 18, 2011 at 10:28 am
The tent is comfortable and cozy. Even seats in the last row are quite close to the stage and have great views.
yup / August 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm
Im tenting right now.

Collin / August 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm
pretty much everything that LD said.

The tents are not that big, in fact, i think the "cheap seats" work better because it gives you a bigger entire stage look. The fancy seats kind of serves a disadvantage because you're so close, you're only focus on a small part of the stage when there are so much other stuff going on.

If you can spare the money to go, it's definitely well worth the money.
Kwil replying to a comment from yup / August 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm
Hahaha amazing.
secyw / August 18, 2011 at 03:09 pm
awesome!! I loved it!!
me / August 18, 2011 at 05:23 pm
I went to see their "Ovo" - didn't know what to expect but it was absolutely stunning - costumes, acrobatics that defy logic - and even "smell-o-vision"! Who else would think to incorporate smell into a show? They had a huge flower that sent out the scent of jasmine that permeated the tent. From a couple of skeptics, we both felt it was worth the ticket price - and are going back to see their Michael Jackson show in the fall. The only really lame part was the clowns they use as filler, I think, between acts. They were slightly annoying. But ... go!
Sandra / September 4, 2011 at 02:39 pm
Could someone tell me how long the show Totem is? If I attend the 4pm show, when will it finish?
Linda / September 21, 2011 at 05:02 pm
I won a ticket and I don't really want to go, so I'm selling for $90 or best offer. Contact me if you want it.
Thomas / May 1, 2012 at 07:02 am
but James overcame his ill health with the help of a very smart catching sickness specialist who looked like Tom Petty and have a hook in place of a right hand over cheap madame butterfly tickets.
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