Monday, 16 January 2012

Cirque Du Soleil - TOTEM-ly Awesome!!


I know I said that my next blog would be about my history with Disney, and that piece is progressing nicely, but I'm going to digress tonight to write about the Cirque Du Soleil show Totem; currently playing at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

I should say two things to preface this piece. Firstly, big thanks and kisses to my wife who not only got me the tickets for Xmas, but was more than willing to spend more of my money in order to get a absolutely awesome centre stage box seats with a just fantastic view. Secondly I should say that having seen nine Cirque shows internationally, some several times, I would consider myself a fan of their work; so this wasn't some kind of revelational experience for me.

So, onto the show. Three words. Go See It. OK, should probably give you a bit more than just that.

Firstly, the set. For a travelling show made to be stageable in any location and not inside a Cirque custom tent; I thought this set blew all the others I have seen away. The scorpion arm was a fantastic feature that was used extremely well for transitions and entrances and coupled with the interactive projections on it and the back stage, it lent so much towards setting the scene for the story. The front stage was a typical Cirque stage with numerous trap doors, lighting and hidden trampoline; but was accessorised with an encompassing turtle shell cage that was used or manipulated throughout the show.

The music for this show was a very cool modernised mix of Native American, Flamenco and Indian beats and rhythms. It wasn't a hugely lyrical show like Alegria, and this helped to not think you were missing something because you can't understand a word of it; but what singing there was, was all excellent. It is certainly a soundtrack I will be listening to again in the near future.

All Cirque shows have a story or theme that is portrayed via performance and music; sometimes it is very obvious, sometimes hugely interpretive. Totem demonstrates the evolution of mankind from amphibian to monkey to man to space with the feeling that you are being told the story by Native Americans symbolism rather than speech. The overall theme is very obvious in Totem with much of the story being told by the extras between the main acts. Some of the acts are obvious of what they represent in the theme of Evolution, others not so much; and some, after looking online and finding out, I still don’t see it. This one probably isn't for the scientologists out there.

LOL! 400 words in and I haven't even mentioned the acts or acrobatics; I guess that shows how total to the senses the experience of a Cirque should be.

As anyone who has seen a Cirque show knows, the clowns are one of the most integral parts of the show; not only providing the laughs but also transitioning the acts. What usually becomes very apparent too is that the term "clown" is very underselling as they are incredibly talented. In Totem there are 2 main clowns and a further 2 (the scientist and the tracker) who are of the clown role but also have a specific act of their own. I thought the clowns in this show were very good, I wouldn't say they were the funniest I've seen but they did make great use of the fantastic set.

The show starts off with a piece combining the normal Cirque trampoline track and a pair of parallel bars. I really enjoyed the combination and while what they did was fantastic, I would have loved to see this act go a few minutes longer and a few more wow moments thrown in. But it was a really good opening act.

Next we were introduced to the Native American side of the story telling with a hoop dancer who used a combination of four hoops to mimic various animals. With this not being the main instance of the act, it didn’t last very long; but the manipulation of the hoops and his body through and around was very impressive.

After our first real introduction to one of the clowns (they appeared throughout the audience for 10 minutes before curtain as they often do), there was a rings duo which expanded to a trio act. While entertaining, this was probably my least favourite of the acts, it didn’t have much in the way of wow moments nor do I have any idea where it fits in with the show’s theme. It did have a cool Bollywood rift though.

After the first showing of what the scorpion arm could do, a troop of five girls on very high unicycles came out balancing bowls on their heads and while riding around and keeping the unicycles moving with one foot, they then started launch kicking further bowls from a standing foot start up and into the bowls on their own and each others heads. The mixture of timing, accuracy and balance in this piece was stunning and as I said to Tara at the time, “you don’t f*ck with Chinese girls at Cirque”; they will invariably steal the show. Absolutely awesome act, although not sure what it had to do with the theme of Evolution.

The next act is called Foot Juggling, but I do not think that explains what it was. This was a pair of sisters using some chair apparatus and spinning square clothes with their hands and feet. They then proceeded to start flinging, tossing and catching them in all kinds of weird and wonderful ways. This was one of those weird acts, technically very well done, but not stunning in what is happening. However, with the laser lighting and music added in, the act worked really well with a great finale trick.

The finale of the first half was called Perches. Proceeding this however told the story of Ape to Man with the Perches performers coming out in business suits before being stripped off by the remaining monkeys. This was a tough one for me, there is obviously a lot of skill, balance, team work and strength involved in the act; however, I truly wonder how much the safety wire was just for safety or if it was also instrumental in the ability to do what they were doing. The finale trick of the act was very impressive and off centre to the safety wire it also put it all down to skill; a near slip showing how ready to jump they were.

After the intermission the Tracker character did his main act called devil sticks. This was basically the intricate manipulation of a third stick by using two being held. Much like the start of the first half, this act was mainly to get the audience back into the mood; but was very entertaining as the Tracker and one of the clowns interacted.

Following was a male and female duo act on a fixed trapeze which for me this was the act of the night. The story being told of flirting, attraction and playing hard to get was very obvious in the movements, attitudes and facial expressions; but the intricacy in all the movements timed to perfection and executed perfectly to a piece of beautiful music made the entire act incredibly enjoyable.

Next it was the scientists turn to show his main act. At many points before this, there had been interaction between the scientist, the tracker and monkeys with balls of light. This time, after some very clever box stacking and bowl spinning, the scientist entered a test tube like cone where we found out he was a very clever juggler who used the cone to send light balls spinning around at all kinds of angles and speeds. A very enjoyable and unexpected act; certainly nothing I have seen before.

We then were treated to the full version of the Native American hoop dancing, now with two performers manipulating the hoops. Like the first time, this wasn’t something that made you go wow, but with the tribal music, it was very entertaining.

The penultimate act was a couple of roller skaters which on a very small platform performed a series of extremely fast spins and lifts that you could only compare to ice skaters; only faster. Truly a mixture of beauty and speed.

As the finale to the show we had the Russian Bar, a Cirque classic. This was a three bar version of the act where acrobats use very bendy and springy bars supported on other performer’s shoulders like a trampoline in order to somersault; half the wow factor being the very precise landing, often not on the bar from which they left. As always, a very enjoyable act.

Overall, this was a great Cirque Du Soleil show with very few low points; and those were probably because I have high expectations having seen so many other shows; I’m sure even my low points wowed newbies. I would recommend seeing this show to anybody, it was a great mixture of act, music and artistic interpretation and thoroughly enjoyable. As a Cirque fan, I can honestly say that this show compares very well against the others I have seen; I don’t think it ranks as my favourite in categories (other than the travelling stage), but it ranks very highly in all for an all around great experience.

Go See It!

Speak Soon :)

1 comment:

  1. Its my new fave next to Quidam and a lovely surprise lunch at Gaucho's :)

    ReplyDelete

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