REVIEW: Cirque du Soleil’s Totem at Citi Field (NY)
We got the chance to see Cirque du Soleil’s show Totem (pronounced in the French way Toe-Tem) last week. Totem, which opened in 2010, has been seen by over 2 million people in North America and Europe since it opened in 2010. This is the first time it’s been in the NY area. It will perform at Citi Field through May 12, 2013.
It’s directed by visionary Quebecois director Robert LePage, who also directed Cirque du Soleil’s show KA which has been in Las Vegas for over 8 years.
The show is beautifully directed and designed. The set, which is a series of hydraulic stages, with spaces for projections, transforms magically from a pool to a river to white water to a desert. There is an overgrown thicket as a backdrop, and actors and acts seem to just materialize into the space. The projections, which were specially shot for this production in locations all over the world, are amazing. I am not sure if I’ve seen more stunning stage illusions ever. (And that includes a number of astonishing shows)
There are 11 acrobatic acts in the show, and nearly all of them are astonishingly virtuosic (which over the years, we have come to expect no less from Cirque) Particular standouts are the Chinese bowl and unicycle act, where 5 women on giraffe unicycles flip bowls from foot to head with astounding agility. There is also a great female foot juggling (antipodism)act, an American Indian hoop dancing act that knocks your socks off, and one of the most beautiful Duo Trapeze acts I’ve seen. The tricks are all great, but what really sells the duo trapeze act (performed by Guilhem Cauchois and Sarah Tessier) is their acting. They go from disgust to lust to love to fear in the space of a few moments in a way that I have hardly ever seen in a trapeze act.
Another standout act was Greg Kennedy. At the beginning of the show, there is an old man character/scientist, and it is completely unclear why he is hanging around. He’s barely used in the show. He just keeps appearing. In the second act, he comes into his own. He performs a juggling routine inside a large glass funnel and is able to spin the lighted balls in a way that is at once mesmerizing and jaw-dropping. The balls spin around and around and around, changing colors and trajectories.
I wish I could say as much for the clowns. Pippo Crotti plays a surfer-dude clown Lothario. The people in front of me kept on exclaiming every time he came out, “Oh no, here comes the annoying guy.” It’s not that he was so annoying, it’s that he was one dimensional. And as a result, he ended up being predictable and annoying. He had a couple of great interactions in a fishing routine with a Ringmasterish character played by Ante Ursic. (who had a wonderful costume– every time he lifted his hat, a bright light shone from inside it.) A third clown Gael Ouisse seemed to be mostly there as a James Bondish Cellphone man. He had a couple of good moments also, but mostly as a foil to Crotti in a speedboat chase sequence.
The clowns all are talented, but they are given the unenviable task of moving a muddled and unfocused story along. The plot is unclear (which, sadly, is another standard for Cirque) The press release says:
TOTEM traces the fascinating journey of the human species from its original amphibian state to its ultimate desire to fly. The characters evolve on a stage evoking a giant turtle, the symbol of origin for many ancient civilizations. Inspired by many founding myths, TOTEM illustrates, through a visual and acrobatic language, the evolutionary progress of species. Somewhere between science and legend TOTEM explores the ties that bind Man to other species, his dreams and his infinite potential.
While I saw those items (the founding myths, the idea of evolution, the desire to fly) none of those hung together as a story, as a plot, that people could follow, and that made sense to tell. It’s more like those things were referenced, but the characters and WHY they were there was not clear at all.
The good news is, we don’t come to the circus for the plot. We come to be amazed, to be amused, and to marvel at the strength and beauty that humans are capable of. And in all of those ways, Cirque’s show TOTEM delivers. It’s definitely a thing of beauty.
Video Promo of the show:
See a great news video- Inside the show: