CIRQUE DU SOLEIL – Best Show In Town, Now Through December 18th at AT&T Park

Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

TOTEM, the newest edition of Cirque du Soleil, has something for everyone. It’s central themes of origin, evolution, and endless possibility are played out by the most gifted athletic artists to be found anywhere in the world. With each performer – the level of physical prowess, vibrant energy and ultra finely-tuned precision is completely daunting. Channeling such degrees of personal discipline, acquired technical skills, and artistic savvy into “an act” is the challenge of every artist in every variety of circus theatre. Robert Lepage, writer and director of Totem, catapults the performers into the highest echelon of Big Top Spectacles – into the uppermost pantheons of showmanship and theatrical excellence.
Click here to order tickets on-line: TOTEM

TOTEM – at AT&T Park

“TOTEM explores the birth and evolution of the world, the relentless curiosity of human beings and their constant desire to excel,” says Lepage. “The word TOTEM suggests that human beings carry in their bodies the full potential of all living species, even the Thunderbird’s desire to fly to the top of the TOTEM. “What is it about the circus that so captivates us? It’s a discipline in which the performers must always go beyond. We witness the transfiguration of the human being. In the short time they are in the air, or performing acrobatic feats, circus artists become more than men and women—they are demigods, and we are transported into a world of mythology.”

Watch the TOTEM trailer:

One of the most important aspects of the show is its costuming. The Crystal Man’s glimmering costume is among the most fascinating in the collection. Weighing-in at a mere eight pounds, its foundation of stretch velvet is layered with more than 4,000 mirror fragments and 4,500 various brilliants. “Although TOTEM is quite fantastical, there’s also a sense of reality,” says designer Kym Barrett. “The costumes were inspired in part by documentary film. I wanted them to have a kind of documentary patina, even though we were inventing our own reality. Costumes are a way of reinforcing the story that’s being told, and that’s how I primarily see them. I trained as a milliner, and I like the sculptural aspects of fabric.”

TOTEM – The Crystal Man

The Cast of TOTEM

The cast of TOTEM and the production values of Cirque du Soleil appeal across universal avenues of extravagant theatrical expression and high-toned athletic pageantry – including ballet, the Olympics, symphony concerts, special effects film blockbusters, the baggy pants humor of classic Vaudeville, musicals and opera, and so much more. A traditional term used by circus Ringmasters, “death defying”, frequently hits the imagination throughout the show. A huge favorite with the audiences are the five very glamorous unicyclists who kick-toss silver bowls across and behind to each other, aiming for a head crown into which the bowls will land. It is fabulously choreographed and seemingly impossible. Choreographer Jeffrey Hall explains his approach. “Circus choreography,” he says “is physical theatre centered around the artists’ skills while driven by the emotions of theme. In each and every number in TOTEM there is an evolutionary factor, which is the thread that runs through the show,” he says. “Our decision to illustrate that thread through dance styles as diverse as hip-hop and Bollywood came very naturally and organically. We researched Hindu dance, American Indian dance, African dance, coupled with theories of animism and TOTEMism.”

TOTEM – The Unicyclists

“Each acrobatic number has its own respiration, its own rhythm, and its own arc,” say the Guy Duboc and Marc Lessard, the show’s musical composers, arrangers and orchestrators. Professionally known as “Bob & Bill”, the pair understands that cultures and genres collide in the music and lyrics they have written and arranged for TOTEM in a fitting reflection of the show’s own themes. “The music has to take that into account – not only in the interests of the audience, but in the interests of the artists too. We set fire to all genres to create a musical, visual, atmospheric fusion.”

How that music is transported under the blue-and-yellow Grand Chapiteau at San Francisco’s AT&T Park is the charge of Jacques Boucher, Sound Designer and Chief Sound Engineer for TOTEM. The Chapiteau stands a bit more than 62-feet high and 167-feet wide and will seat more than 2,600 patrons. “For TOTEM I created a multi-source sound environment to produce an all-enveloping ambiance,” says Jacques Boucher. “Given the theme of the show, which deals with the evolution of man, I wanted to pay homage to the human ability to perceive sounds according to their sources, a function that has enabled man to survive for millennia. I am guided by instinct. Once I immerse myself in the emotion of a scene, I amplify that emotion to create moods.”

TOTEM – The Fixed Trapeze Duo
Caught unaware, the young woman is plucked from the ground by a would-be lover and transported high above where she must trust his affectionate interests and surrender her fears. Like two lovebirds, they play and tease in an innocent game of seduction, eventually intertwining their bodies in a light-hearted vertical dance of lifts, drops, and breath-taking thrills.

TOTEM – The Scientist
This character represents reason and the quest to understand the universe in ways that can be quantified, measured and put into boxes. His “laboratory” features an orchestra of glass containers filled with mysterious fluorescent fluids as he steps into a transparent cone and juggles with luminous balls that might represent planets or molecules—or both—making them chase after each other in spiral orbits.

The show’s Lighting Designer, Étienne Boucher, has been much in demand since leaving the National Theatre School of Canada in 1999. His designer credits involve nearly a hundred productions, including theatre and dance, musicals and opera. Concerned with the meaning of both color and light, he is regarded in his milieu as being more of an illuminator. “I like to fill the whole space between the projector and the artist with light,” says Étienne. “It allows me to color the air, which in turn lets me pick out the details of the set design and sculpt the artists.”

TOTEM – Costume Designs by Kym Barrett

Etienne’s precise, chiseled designs—at times expressionistic, at times poetic—form pictures of light that fuel the narrative of the productions. “In TOTEM, I wanted to play with the colors of the projections on the marsh to create a third dimension by extending those effects onto the stage. The light I have created for this show is a reflection borrowed from nature. My greens and blues were inspired by ice, and the reds and yellows were definitely inspired by fire. As early as the first run-through, ideas are bumping into each other and fusing together at a crazy speed. Everything takes shape in my head. I then synthesize and refine my concept during rehearsals.”

TOTEM –The Roller Skaters

TOTEM is a fascinating journey into the evolution of mankind. The show continues at the Grand Chapiteau located near San Francisco’s AT&T Park through Sunday, December 18th.
Click here to order tickets on-line: TOTEM

Want to run away and join Cirque du Soleil?
Over the years, the Casting team has created opportunities and implemented flexible, innovative methods of discovering new artists. Some disciplines require a different recruiting approach, and the strategies adopted vary based on each community’s reality. Similarly, the messages communicated via social networking sites, the Casting newsletter and the promotion of recruitment activities are tailored based on the strategy developed to reach the target audience.

More than half of Cirque du Soleil artists come from a sports background. For many years now, Cirque has offered stage career opportunities for athletes whose competitive career is drawing to an end. This represents an opportunity for them to acquire new skills in the performing arts and to transform their career. This approach opens new doors for sports such as artistic, acrobatic and rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline, tumbling, synchronized swimming and diving.

Click here for audition information: Auditions


The Sentinel’s own editor Sean Martinfield is interviewed by David Perry on Comcast. Catch the Action!
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