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Cirque Du Soleil TOTEM: Not Your Average Circus


Cirque Du Soleil TOTEM: Not Your Average Circus

Paige Kerin

Cirque Du Soleil is not just a circus. Shows performed by the world-renowned company are spectacular and impressive productions, combining acrobatics, dance, music and art. After decades of touring the world with many different shows, Cirque Du Soleil presents TOTEM.

TOTEM tells the story of mankind in a somewhat non-chronological order, depicting Darwin’s theory of man, lost civilizations of South America, Native American Indian culture, futuristic Cosmonauts and everything in between. The show doesn’t have a linear narrative as such, but more so a theme that is returned to with the reappearance of the bearded scientist, appearing to honour Charles Darwin; and man’s ancestor, incredibly realistic monkeys.

Written and directed by Robert Lepage, the theme story of man is told through a series of moving and spectacular acts performed by humans that defy the ways you could ever thought a body could move. Although the show is about the incredible acts of strength and skill the performers display, the theatre aspect is just as prominent. The costumes for each performer are works of art, with the sparkly showmanship you’d expect from circus costumes, but all fit the theme and honor different cultures. Each performer’s face is intricately painted to match their costume, and a particular fun fact is that each cast member does their own makeup. The soundtrack is stirring, with influences from different indigenous cultures, prominently African and Native American origins. With a peak of the musicians who perform live at the back of the stage, their sound is unmistakably close. If there’s one piece of merchandise I can convince you to buy, it’s the soundtrack.


Among the many acts in TOTEM, it’s incredibly hard to pick a favourite, although I can recall several highlights… The Unicyclists are quite simply, unbelievable. Five performers in the act ride unicycles, at times with one foot, while performing tricks with silver bowls you could never fathom being possible. The Cosmonauts execute a Russian bars routine, launching performers high into the air as they flip and turn, then to land on planks supported by incredible strong men. The roller-skating couple performs the ultimate display of trust, and love. They move at amazing speed around a platform – with only 1.8 metre diameter – while the man swings the woman around, at full speed. Insane. The trapeze routine, aside from a display of extreme strength and control, portrays the excitement of young love. The rings trio is the absolute spectacle of human strength, with 2 men and 1 woman flying high above the audience, raising their body into insane positions with just the strength of their arms and core. If there was ever any motivation to get to the gym, it was that.

The cast is a mix of people from around the World, with around 120 people from 20 different countries including America, Canada, China, Russia and Finland. Many of the performers are former Olympic gymnasts and athletes and some have been an act for years before TOTEM. The blanket-spinning Crystal Ladies are twin sisters. The roller skaters are husband and wife who have been performing together for 20 years. The trapeze pair trained together at circus school. Being a Cirque Du Soleil performer is certainly not your average 9-5 job. They are the modern gypsys, who constantly travel to entertain the world. When they’re not performing, they love to experience the culture of the city they’re in; going to restaurants, shopping at the markets and even see the local animals. Some of the cast recently had the exciting experience of feeding kangaroos.


Aside from the theatre, often times throughout the show I found myself focusing on the physicality of the performers, wondering how it is at all possible for them to be doing the acts they make look so incredibly easy. They jump, flip, hang and contort their bodies in unbelievable ways, displaying the incredible skill they have clearly worked on for the majority of their life. In particular, the performers who portray different animals completely adopt the tiny mannerisms of the creature, moving their head or body ever so slightly, you forget for a second that there’s a human in there somewhere.


The Cirque Du Soleil Company is phenomenally large, but equally organized. TOTEM is in its fourth year of touring now, with the crew and cast remaining mostly the same for the entirety. The entire operation is run with almost military-like precision. The Big Top village and its contents is transported from city to city. That’s not just the tents, but the training area backstage, a small gym complete with full weight set, a full wardrobe and costume department, all of the staging, lighting and seating.  

I could go on all day describing this show to you, but it is truly something you have to see to believe. It’s definitely worth every dollar, and something we don’t get to see a lot in Adelaide town. Cirque Du Soleil runs until July 12. Get on it!

Cirque Du Soleil is showing under the Big Top at Tampawardli until July 12, you can buy tickets here!

All images supplied by Cirque Du Soleil