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Evolution and transformation under the big top

June, 2010

I have to write a review of Totem in under 600 words. If any of you have seen prior Cirque du Soleil shows, you understand how hard this is.

Totem has everything: leaping frogs, a Native American hoop dancer, ring artists, towel-twirling star people, balancers, trapeze acts, roller-skating Indians, bouncing Cosmonauts, even water-skis! The entire show was great, but there were two scenes that really stood out for me.

After a funny little act with a clown in a boat, some guys came out of the reeds, followed by five Asian girls with bowls on their heads … riding unicycles! They proceeded to toss bowls onto the ones balanced on their heads … with their feet! Pedaling with one foot, they’d put a bowl on their foot, kick, and the bowl would (usually) land perfectly in the bowls stacked on their heads.

Then they kicked the bowls onto each other’s heads! Either one would kick all her bowls onto the others’ heads, or they would all kick their bowls onto one head.

Red-nosed Trevor Juhl after Totem. Photo: Melani Litwack

At one amazing point, all the girls started circling around one of them, who – you guessed it – started kicking her bowls onto the others as they circled around her! And then she did it BACKWARD!

My next favourite came five scenes later. A team of scientists walked onstage, including Charles Darwin, his spotlight-hatted sidekick and his pet monkey. They played music Stomp-style with a set of gigantic test tubes containing random fluids and a lab kit (one of the scientists had a smaller set of tubes that she used as pan pipes). Darwin grabbed a box and out came another box, and another, and another (all still attached) until he was looking up at a magnificent zig-zaggy structure taller than himself, balanced in his palm. Then, with a small shake, it collapsed into one box again.

But wait, there’s more! He went to a small stack of bowls and rolled them on the floor, aided by the monkey and Mr. Devilclown (the one with the light-hat) in a fantastic display of rotating dishes. It was like juggling on the ground.

In the meantime, two scientists wheeled in a giant inverted cone on wheels. After he was done, Darwin went underneath the cone, reappearing inside. He tossed a glowing ball against the wall of the cone: It twirled around him and came back. He did it again, and again, in one fluid motion, and more balls were added until he had 10 or so in there.

Then a surprise: They changed colour! First red, then blue, then they morphed into green. Circled by pulsing colours, Darwin juggled them faster and faster. He was surrounded by multicoloured magic … and suddenly, his white hair and beard came off, and he was transformed into a young man!

Cirque du Soleil’s Totem runs under the big top in the Old Port till July 11. 800-450-1480,



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