Caught in the Act

Totem: Stories of Our Origins

By Jared Bowen

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June 18, 2012

barres
Barres (Carapace). A giant turtle at center stage represents the origins of life on Earth. (Photo: Cirque du Soleil)


BOSTON — The marvelous thing about Cirque du Soleil is that there is always so much at which to marvel. “Totem”, the company’s new Big Top show now running at the Marine Industrial Park on the South Boston waterfront, upholds the tradition. Written and directed by Robert Lepage, Totem bills itself as tracing the journey of the human species from its origins to space exploration. Mind you, save for one or two Cirque productions, their narrative arcs have generally remained elusive to me. What is abundantly evident, however, is the company’s capacity to consistently amaze.
 
For Cirque aficionados, you’ll find new technology at play here. An impressive piece of machinery serves alternately as a giant walk, a speedboat and a spaceship. And for the first time in a traveling show, the company employs gorgeous video projection with touch capability. When performers cross a pond, the water ripples from their footfalls. It is all a more-sumptuous-than-usual platform from which to enjoy Totem’s full compliment of performance and acrobatics.
 
In a scene called “Foot Juggling”, featuring Crystal Ladies Marina Tsodikova and Svetlana Tsodikova, the women stand perched atop one another while spinning fabric—an astonishing feat which never quite becomes comprehensible. In “Roller Skates”, husband and wife team Massimiliano Medini and Denise Garcia-Sorta perform on skates—spinning, flinging and twirling on the smallest of stages. Cirque shows always has nerve-wracking moments, and this was the one for me. Just one slipped grip could have been disastrous. Oh, the tension!
 
Most compelling, though, was “Fixed Trapeze Duo” — where Louis-David Simoneau and Rosalie Ducharme perform an acrobatic ballet high above the stage. We watch as they cycle through the best and worst of any relationship—the love, the remorse, the manipulation and the regret. It’s a charged interplay that rivals the best contemporary dance routine.
 
Cirque du Soleil’s standards are always exceptionally high—stunning performances, rich costumes and sets. On opening night though, one act failed. Four women on tall unicycles were meant to toss bowls onto each other’s heads. A number were missed. Perfect isn’t easy, it turns out—even for Cirque du Soleil.  The reason I make mention is that Cirque shows are generally so flawless that a mistake, or series of them, is an event unto itself.

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About the Author
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 

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