Cirque Du Soleil: Totem at the Royal Albert Hall
The Cirque Du Soleil group, founded over three decades ago, has come to be regarded as circus royalty over the years. While their repertoire expands at an impressive rate, their previous shows continue to find the spotlight as they tour the world. This year sees the London comeback of the Canadian company’s 2010 show Totem at the ever impressive Royal Albert Hall.
Inspired by the evolution of human life, the piece fills the stage with attractive colours, shapes and lights from the first spectacular scene to the upbeat finale. Meticulously designed costumes and a striking set design mirror various aspects of nature. A hollow oval framework represents a giant turtle shell and doubles up as an acrobats’ platform. A tilted screen on the ground projects images of water and is surrounded by reeds: these are the marshes where life – and the action – begins. Water is a central element of the show. At first, amphibians emerge to explore new frontiers; later, in modern times, it becomes the setting of behaviours related to survival masked as recreational activities, such as fishing or competing to attract a mate at the beach.
Unicyclists, hoop dancers, trapeze artists and contortionists perform with superb skill, to the great delight of the audience. The journey of evolution is not recounted in a linear way, however, and it moves randomly from one culture to another, representing each in sketchy, superficial strokes. The attempt to attach a storyline or profound meaning to each act comes across as forced, making the connecting passages between acrobatics often seem awkward or cheesy. This includes the comic sketches, which are underwhelming and unmemorable.
The evolution of the circus tradition would perhaps be to develop the central theme and context further so that the performance can transmit emotion or instigate real thought and debate. As it is, Totem is a sophisticated visual display showcasing technically outstanding performers. Given the company’s status and continued success, such a show could be improved over time by enriching the foundation that is meant to hold the piece together, and sharpening its weaker points. Each re-run, after all, presents an opportunity to raise the standards higher.
Photo: Cirque de Soleil Inc.
Cirque Du Soleil: Totem is at the Royal Albert Hall from 12th January until 26th February 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.