If you grew up being entertained by
the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, put it quickly out of
your mind. Cirque du Soleil is 21st century, different on so many
levels from those three-ring circuses, although there still are acrobats and
animals – or people dressed as animals, at least in the TOTEM performance
showing at Atlantic Station through Dec. 2.
With dazzling colorful costumes,
brilliant lights and marvelous music, TOTEM brings to life the evolution of
human beings from our initial crawling amphibian shape, evoked by a turtle, to
our long-sought ambition to fly. TOTEM’s cast of characters illustrates through
acrobatics touched with humor the dreams of Man, as well as his foibles.
The word “totem” itself represents the
order of species. Written and directed by Robert Lepage, known for his unique
modern messages and presentations, TOTEM is his second Cirque show.
by the foundation narratives of the first peoples, TOTEM explores the birth and
evolution of the world, the relentless curiosity of human beings and their
constant desire to excel,” he says. “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.”
Eight different acts, as varied as
Chinese performers on unicycles tossing and catching bowls, to stunning
acrobats, to a hoops dancer, alternately amazed, frightened and
entertained TOTEM’s opening night audience. The large blue and yellow tent opened
into an intimate setting that found, first clowns, then various other
performers reaching into the appreciative crowd. Cheering and standing ovations
expressed the audience’s gratitude.
Nothing in the planning and execution
of TOTEM is done by chance. Performers are deliberative and cautious in their
movements, some of which are definitely not meant for faint-hearted observers.
The show’s theme of evolution is
reinforced by emphasis on the human body, incredibly performed by amazingly
muscular young men and women. The costumes entail meticulous research into real
animals and plants along with traditional cultural and tribal designs.
Brilliant colors, sequins and intricate patterns of the costumes bring the
characters to life.
Three characters tie the show
together. The Crystal Man, who opens the show, falls from space to spark life
on Earth. We watch as he initially animates the turtle’s skeleton and closes
the show by diving into a lagoon. The Scientist is the explorer, reminiscent of
Charles Darwin, who visits the various worlds of the show and performs magical
experiments. The Tracker is a friend of the animals who assists The Scientist
in his explorations.
The stage is visually and elaborately brought
to life as a marsh lined with reeds providing the backdrop for an island on
which images are projected. Through the moving images, the stage progresses
from a swamp to a river source, a lake, an ocean, a volcanic island and a
starry sky. The images were shot for production from around the world, in
places including Iceland, Hawaii and Guatemala.
Cirque founder Guy Laliberte was the
first to orchestrate the combination of cultures and artistic and acrobatic
disciplines for which Cirque du Soleil has become famous. Since 1984, he has
guided a team through the creation of every show and contributed to elevating
circus arts to an incomparable artistic discipline. Cirque du Soleil has become
an international organization in terms of its performers, directors and the
scope of its influence, with activities on five continents.
Jan Jaben-Eilon, a
journalist, is a guest blogger for the Atlanta Convention & Visitors
Bureau. She was a founding staff
writer of the “Atlanta Business Chronicle.” Since then, she has
been the international editor of “Advertising Age” magazine and has written for such publications
New York Times,” “International Herald Tribune,” “The Jerusalem Report”,
“Washington Journalism Review,” and “Consumer Reports.” Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and