Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Review: Cirque du Soleil's TOTEM

Review: Cirque du Soleil's TOTEM



By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer


If Darwin could juggle….

That seems to be the premise behind Cirque du Soleil’s  Totem. I don’t know why it’s called Totem. The press information said the narrative was about evolution; I actually couldn’t find much of a narrative, despite the fact that it was written and directed by the avant-garde French Canadian actor/director/filmmaker Robert Lepage. 

But Cirque du Soleil is always fun in a circus-y way—acrobats, trapeze artists, jugglers, clowns-- and it’s great that it’s back in the Big Top, their signature blue and yellow tents, after several years in Temple’s stadium. 

The acts I liked best were the “Russian Bars,” a troupe of ten strongmen whose exotic costumes and gestures made them look like Chinese warriors as they flew through the air, and the “Unicycles and Bowls” performed by five Chinese women on very high unicycles who could flip bowls onto their own and each others’ heads.  

One frequent set-up was the flirty, sexy couple; this requires a very  strong man who can do one thing (like roller skate very fast in a circle) and a very little woman who is also very strong and who trusts him, literally, with her life. The Indian Princess (the show keeps returning to these indigenous people and their drums) and her Prince, for example, an unlikely pair who emerge from a canoe. In roller skates.  The French trapeze artists were the best version of this kind of duo, very daring and very charming.

There are hoop dancers and foot jugglers and all manner of amazing talents: how does anybody do that? is the basic reaction.  But most of the acts go on too long, repeating again and again what we’ve already admired.

The most impressive aspect of this show for me was the lighting designed by Etienne Boucher: fascinating projections that looked like water, waves, snow, waterfalls, or a still pool with creatures swimming in it.

Cirque du Soleil has always been known for their exotic and extreme costumes; in Totem there are lots of sparkles and mysterious designs, but they don’t seem to have any real meaning, except of course the monkey who is Darwin’s pal. And speaking of Darwin, it turns out he can juggle—inside a cone with lighted balls whirling around him.  Who knew?


Cirque du Soleil at Grand Chapiteau at the Camden Waterfront. Through June 30.  Tickets $58-140

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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