Totem explores the infinite potential of human existence

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Cirque du Soleil brings their latest big top show to Vancouver.

By: Tessa Perkins

First published in The Peak.

Chronicling the evolution of the human species from amphibians, to apes, to the present, Totem is a new Cirque du Soleil production that fuses many cultures and inspirations to create a magical tapestry of human ingenuity. As tour publicist Francis Jalbert explains, “It explores the infinite potential of human beings. We’re always moving onwards and upwards; we don’t accept the status quo.” It’s also about the evolution of our own lives and the way we evolve as individuals.


With the focus of this show being mainly on the overarching theme of evolution, rather than plot and characters, Jalbert said that the audience is invited to draw their own conclusions and interpretations of what they see. This production allows people to “discover Cirque in a new way,” he explained, describing it as “the most intimate, strong bond and connection with the performers” of any Cirque show. Even if people have seen a few Cirque du Soleil shows, he assures that this one will be different. 

Each act is its own story that represents a different stage in our evolution, but they are not presented in chronological order. Instead, they jump back and forth in time and see the parallel bars act representing the origins of life. Fish, frogs, and other amphibious creatures dominate the stage along with a giant turtle. 

The Russian bars act takes the show into outer space as they represent cosmonauts trying to defy gravity. Another act that Jalbert finds very impressive is the fixed trapeze duo. Performed by two teenage characters, he said that this act represents the evolution of young love and touches the audience on an emotional level while also being technically stunning.  

Many Native Canadian and American cultures are represented in the show, explained Jalbert. Although no specific tribe is portrayed, the hoops dancers act is inspired by many of these cultures and represents the circle of life and a deep connection with the earth. The music, also heavily influenced by native cultures, is very tribal and heavy on percussion. The vocalists are Esi Kwesiwa Acquaah-Harrison, an African heritage singer and Christian Laveau, a member of the Huron First Nation within Quebec City.

The costumes by Kym Barrett include many natural elements such as feathers and shells, and Jalbert explained that they are very diverse with each act requiring a different aesthetic. The inspiration for these costumes is a fusion of imagination and reality as Totem seems to straddle these two worlds. 

The many video projections used allow for the audience to escape to many different places. “It’s like travelling around the world without leaving your seat,” said Jalbert, “you step into the big top and forget about your reality.” The projections include a marsh in Montreal, a waterfall in Iceland, and a volcano in Guatemala. 

The mixture of different landscapes and cultures, and an emphasis on the earth and our connection to it, fills this show with a sense of hope. “When the audience leaves, they will feel like they just dreamt for two hours with us,” said Jalbert, “It’s an outstanding, unique theatre experience.”

Totem will be presented by Cirque du Soleil under the big top at Concord Pacific Place from May 15 to July 6. For more information, visit  

Photo courtesy of OSA Images.

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