note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
There’s something different about Cirque du Soleil’s newest show, “Totem,” currently appearing in Boston through July 22 as part of its North American tour. Yes, it’s performed under its Big Top, or yellow and blue Grand Chapiteau that’s 66 feet high, 167 feet in diameter, and seats more than 2,600. Yes, it still features 53 astounding performers who hail from 19 countries, and stirring music, played by Music Director Charles Dennard Jr. on keyboard and his marvelous musicians. Their pulsating beats and mystical notes enhance this spectacular show’s glamor and excitement.
And Kym Barrett’s glittery, eye-catching costumes, coupled with Pedro Pires’ magnificent holographic -digital projections and images, Jacques Boucher’s accompanying dramatic sounds and Etienne Boucher’s lighting impressively change seasons, watery areas, from marshes, to waterfalls, approaching and receding tides, wild thunderstorms, dawn and dusk.
The big difference in “Totem,” which debuted in Montreal in 2010, is it’s more allegorical and balletic, with fewer spine-tingling acts. The show traces man from its original amphibian state --- in this case, a huge turtle, the symbol of origin for many cultures, to man’s ultimate desire to fly, like the thunderbird at the top of the totem. According to Cirque du Soleil’s informational material, the show depicts the evolutionary progress of humans through visual and acrobatic wonders. And somewhere between science and legend, it explores the ties that bind man to other species, his dreams and his infinite potential. Sounds lofty, doesn’t it?
With their usual pre-show silliness, clowns weave through the audience, greeting people and pretending to be ushers, while incorrectly leading them to their seats. Their silly antics rev up the crowd.
Suddenly, the mood changes. In the center of the circular stage is a huge mound representing a giant turtle. As its outer shell lifts, performers swing, twist and tumble on its skeletal domed frame, and a sparkling, glittery silver creature descends, ascends, on a single wire. She’s a harbinger and silent narrator throughout.
While most acts are more lowkey, some feature their own spellbinding magic and awe.
While assuming various formations, whether they’re spinning around or criss-crossing each other, graceful Chinese acrobats Hao Yuling, He Xuedi, Wen Xin and Wu Yurong balancing and riding on 6-foot unicycles toss bowls with their feet and catch them on their heads.
Crystal ladies Marina and Svetlana Tsodikova, garbed in glittery silver and lavender costumes, perch backward on seat supports, spinning matching cloths so rapidly with their arms and feet, the squares resemble discs.
Choreographer Jeff Hall and acrobatic designer Florence Pot have designed more romantic, stirring movements, especially in Louis David Simoneau and Rosalie Ducharme’s fixed trapeze act. Ducharme is held captive and given to Simoneau, who lifts her aloft on the trapeze. As she resists his advances, the two perform jaw-dropping feats, tumbling like Jacob’s ladders, ascending, catching each other. He hangs by his chin and she slithers to his side, above and below him.
And in a wintry, white scene, Indian captive Denise Garcia Sorta, who’s bound and blindfolded in a canoe, is led to handsome brave, Massimiliano Medini. On a large communal drum, the couple dizzily spin on roller skates, performing acrobatic feats.
During several numbers, dancers in Native American or more mod costumes line the aisles, beating drums and dancing near the audiences. Interwoven between the progression of man --- from amphibians to cave men, from curious apes to modern man in suits, white shirts and ties, carrying briefcases and cell phones --- performers dance, spin and balance hoops and rings, balance and jump from one pliable pole to another. Several comedic routines are interspersed throughout the show.
Featured performers Greg Kennedy as a scientist and Joseph Putignano as the Crystal Man create magical illusions with Putignano inside a colossal glass tube, creating and swirling bright-colored crystal orbs.
Ten sure-footed acrobats balance, jump, climb, and switch from one large pole to another, leading into the ensemble’s rip-roaring finale.
BOX INFO:Two-act Cirque du Soleil show, written and directed by Robert LePage, appearing at Boston’s Marine Industrial Park in Boston, now through July 22. Showtimes are Wednesdays at 8 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 4,8 p.m.; Sundays, 1,5 p.m.; NO performances Mondays or Tuesdays. For tickets and more information, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/totem.