It’s grey, it’s miserable, it’s January. What we need is a bit of gleam and shine, and Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM provides just that as the perfect beat the blues, New Year show.
With Robert Lepage, one of the world’s most creative theatre-makers, as writer and director, along with jaw-dropping acrobatics and exhilarating aerial stunts this show is inspiring.
TOTEM is about the evolution of the species, from our origins as reptiles in the swamp to our aspirations to fly. The show doesn’t follow a linear narrative, but, rather, the circle of life (making the round Royal Albert Hall the perfect setting.)
Included are myths and legend and the Darwinian theory that we’re descended from monkeys. There’s a Darwin character – who spins illuminated balls in a man – sized funnel – along with Neanderthal man. The main through-line is totemism – the idea that we have a kinship or mystical relationship with the natural world including animals and plants. And there’s a life-force, or spirit, binding us as one. A bit hippy-skippy for some, perhaps, but the show executes this notion beautifully, and, actually, you don’t need to know or even get it to enjoy the performance.
TOTEM opens with a turtle shaped structure, touched by the ‘light’ (‘spirit’) in the form of Crystal Man, an aerial acrobat in a glittering costume, to reveal a mass of amphibians brought to jumping, swirling, dancing life.
From there we’re treated to a stunt-pulling, ridiculously charismatic roller-skating Native American couple; a suited troupe who reveal reptilian acrobats under their business garb and macho Italians with a beautiful femme fatale soaring through the air on their gymnast’s rings.
My highlights were a troupe of five unicyclists, throwing bowls and a teapot onto each others’ heads with their feet – and not dropping a single one.
And the standout act was a couple on the trapeze, performing a seduction with such charm, chemistry and beauty it actually brought a tear to my eye. I’ve never seen a more perfect depiction of young, romantic love anywhere, in any art form, ever.
And this, really, is why the show is such winner. Yes, the clowns aren’t particularly funny and there are a few ‘we are the world’ cliches. But TOTEM is performed with such joy, optimism and love that they’re forgiven.
Go with the eyes of a child, and, by the end, you’ll believe that you can fly.
TOTEM, Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AP until 17th February
by Loma-Ann Marks for Openmagazine.co.uk