Review: Totem, Cirque Du Soleil, Royal Albert Hall

Cirque Du Soleil Totem

Cirque Du Soleil Totem - Credit: Archant

The great Canadian auteur Robert Lepage has written and directed the Cirque’s latest visit to the Royal Albert Hall and you can find his quirky stamp all over it - from the clever recreation of the famous March of Man evolution illustration, to a trouple of acrobats in dayglo Aboriginal spotted suits and space helmets, walking down a runway then taking off.

Cirque Du Soleil Totem

Cirque Du Soleil Totem - Credit: Archant

There’s more than the usual high concept to this evolutionary tale, which traces the journey of the human species from amphibian state in the primordial soup, to mankind’s desire to transcend earth’s gravity and fly.

Thus we have vaulting lizards, bearded scientists, Neanderthals, primates, Native American Indians, a Top-hatted Toreador, strutting Italian beach bums, and a mobile phone-toting exectutive, all mixed together in a colourful sometimes bewildering swirl on one island.

What the folk at cirque do so well is to pull together disparate but breathtaking circus acts into a narrative and design concept that you just have to roll with, even when it seems barmy.

Totem opens with a giant turtle shell uncovered to become a frame for vaulting lizards. There’s a fast pasted Amerindian hoop dance and five chinese unicylists perform amazing feats of balance flicking metal bowls from their feet onto their heads while keeping the cycle going with one leg.

Cirque Du Soleil Totem

Cirque Du Soleil Totem - Credit: Archant

The Toreador does a balletic dance with a diabolo, and Clown Misha proves a deft physical comic with his disastrous picnic on a fishing boat routine.

The scientist, by now working with helpful Bonobos, juggles illuminated balls in a giant chemistry flask, and my favourite, with its nod to contemporary circus, a pair of aerialists act out the akwardness of a love ritual from attraction, doubt, and finally trust as he suspends her high above the stage with just a hand under her neck. Awesome.

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The twirling rollerskaters who use centrifugal force to do stunning tricks and the aboriginal cosmonauts flying skywards and landing on thin bamboo planks are no slouch either. Defying gravity indeed.

And all this to a live soundtrack that veers between ethereal folk songs, and Spanish Flamenco, to full throated African chant.

Special mention shoud go to design team Kym Barrett for gorgeous costumes which leave nothing to the imaginaton, and set designer Carl Fillion and projection designer Pedro Pires, who create a watery, jungle-filled world with stunning projections that turn the floor from pond, to volcano to riverbank and swirling clouds.

By the time the 46 strong cast of acrobats and musicians come on for the finale, you’ll have been won over by this very French investigation of life’s rich tapestry.

Until February 26.