Thursday, March 5, 2015

TOTEM by Cirque du Soleil - now in Melbourne!

This week I had the absolute pleasure of attending TOTEM by Cirque du Soleil, currently in Melbourne.  Oh my glob!! THE most incredible spectacle; I can simply not recommend it strongly enough.  I think the show has quite a broad appeal as well so take the whole family.

I also had the added bonus of a behind the scenes tour following the show, and an insight the amazing costumes and the design process.  Absoluty incredible!

The show, written and directed by Robert Lepage, is a journey into the story of evolution. TOTEM starts with the organic life in the primordial ooze. Featuring Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons, primates and men in suits, among others, the show depicts a world of archetypal characters who, in their own way, witness and act out the perennial, existential, questions of life.

Australian Kym Barrett, costume designer for TOTEM, was inspired by real animals, plants and birds as well as traditional cultural and tribal designs to source her fanciful, inventive concoctions.  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.

Backstage, after the show we met The Crystal Man who opened the show, representing the life force.  His costume was dazzling!! Covered in about 4500 reflective small mirrors and crystals on a stretch velvet leotard the costume weighs about 4 kg.

We were also able to see the costumes featured in the opening marsh scene close up.  The patterns and colours come from real fish and frogs, including the most poisonous frog in the Amazon jungle.  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!!

We also had the pleasure of meeting the stunning identical twins who performed the foot-juggling act.  Each of their costumes are adorned with 3,500 crystals and the two headdresses each encrusted with a further 1,000.  It was astonishing to find out that each of these costumes was worth close to $30,000!!!!

The Cosmonaut was another performer we had the honor of meeting.  The body-hugging Lycra suits glow dramatically in the dark, but as soon as the stage lights kick in, their look is completely transformed. We got to see the glow in the dark effect in the last act, which was one of my favourites.
Some other fascinating things we learnt during our backstage tour included that the 750 costume pieces seen on stage in TOTEM (and the exact same amount of back-up pieces traveling with the show) are all very carefully looked after.  After every performance the costumes are washed, and daily tasks include repairing and maintaining all pieces, double-checking all elements impacting the performance (falling sequins, loose beads, etc.).  Each costume is custom fitted to the bodies of the artists and handcrafted at the Cirque du Soleil International Head Quarters in Montreal. The average lifespan of the TOTEM costume pieces is 6 months.  Only 6 months!!

A few more interesting facts:

• Since its Montreal World Premiere on April 22, 2010, TOTEM has been performed more than 1,600 times in 28 cities across Australia, Canada, New Zealand, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and the United States.
• To date, more than 3 million audience members have been mesmerized by a performance of TOTEM.
• The production features a cast of 46 acrobats, actors, musicians and singers from 17 countries (Australia, Belarus, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States).
• The cast is supported by a dedicated team of 64 technicians and employees from 7 countries (Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States).

The mission of Cirque du Soleil is to invoke the imagination, provoke the senses and evoke the emotions of people around the world.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they have met their mission with TOTEM.

For more information head to

TOTEM by Cirque du Soleil is playing until March 29 under the Big Top at Flemington Racecourse, before heading to Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

To read one of my fellow Melbourne bloggers, Candice DeVille's review head HERE.

- Photos from the show thanks to Cirque du Soleil, all other photos by me

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