Cirque du Soleil’s Totem seeks to trigger emotions and fire the imaginations of its audience, says Robert Vezina, assistant to the artistic director of the touring show.
Created by renowned Canadian writer and director Robert Lepage, Totem traces the journey of humankind, beginning with amphibians emerging from the water and continuing all the way through to attempts to fly to the Moon.
Vezina says Lepage devised the concept after researching Native American stories and legends.
The show features Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons, primates, humans, and myriad exotic creatures and totems, exploring both creation stories and modern myths. Moving images from different parts of the world – from Guatemala to Iceland – transform the set from a virtual swamp, to a river, ocean, volcanic island and starry sky.
“We go through very vast imagery and at the same time I hope it evokes feeling,” says Vezina.
“He [Lepage] believes that we all carry within ourselves the history of mankind and the history of species, and that we all consciously or unconsciously try to advance the species.”
“You could make the link with these performers pushing themselves to the limit.”
Touring a Cirque du Soleil production is a mammoth logistical exercise and Vezina says when Totem arrives in Adelaide next month it will take eight days to set up the big top in Tampawardli Park.
The show travels with a total of 2000 tons of equipment (including 750 costume pieces) transported in 85 containers, plus 46 acrobats, actors, singers and musicians, and 64 technicians and other employees.
A troupe of Chinese performers who flip bowls on their heads while sitting atop unicycles more than 2 metres high are among the daring acrobatic acts. There are also high-bar and rings routines, a fixed trapeze act, foot juggling, hoops dancers and hand balancing.
Vezina says most of the acrobats have trained as gymnasts, where precision and technique are paramount. As an actor by trade, part of his job is to tease out their creative side to ensure the performance is not robotic.
“It’s really approaching acting – abandoning yourself to a character, being crazy.
“Some people are very comfortable with that and some aren’t. It’s all about letting go. We’re asking them to be not just a gymnast but also a character.”
While Totem has evolved since it was first presented in Las Vegas in 2004, Vezina says the production team respects Lepage’s original concept as much as possible.
It is the second Cirque du Soleil show created by the writer-director, whose extensive career spans theatre, film and music (a re-staged version of his play Needles & Opium was presented at the Adelaide Festival last year).
Vezina believes Lepage is in his element working with Cirque, adding that his wit is evident in parts of Totem.
“One of his major traits is that he will come up with a very simple idea, but at the same time there’s a little glimpse or sparkle of genius that triggers an emotion … that’s a signature of his.
“It’s just magical.”
Cirque du Soleil will present Totem at The Plateau in Tampawardli (Park 24), west parklands, from June 11 until July 12.
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