CDS_hand balancing_OSA ImagesMy love of Cirque du Soleil started in 1999 when I was fortunate to work on the Melbourne season of Saltimbanco, their first of many visits to this country. Since then, I have seen six of the seven big top shows that have toured Australia in the past 16 years: Saltimbanco, Alegria, Dralion, Verakai, OVO and now, TOTEM.

So it was with much anticipation, on a balmy Melbourne evening, I headed out to Flemington Racecourse, their new location after a number of years at Docklands to see their latest offering, TOTEM in the trademark blue-and-­yellow big top.

Since its premiere in 2010, more than 3 million people worldwide have been taken on TOTEM’s  mesmerising journey, and it is easy to see why it was the winner of the 2013 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience. Spectacular design, brilliant costumes, breathtaking athleticism, set against an original soundtrack. Cirque du Soleil know how to deliver.

Written and directed by Robert Lepage, TOTEM features a cast of 45 acrobats, actors, musicians and singers in a two hour presentation that traces the evolutionary journey of the human species, that sits somewhere between fact and fiction.

Lepage’s narrative is nothing short of providing an opportunity to showcase the virtuosity of TOTEM’s collection of acrobats, balance-beam and trapeze artists, uni-cyclists, jugglers, and other performers.

Highlights are a plenty from the quintet of women atop oversized unicycles who juggle small metal bowls using their feet and heads, the agility of Pavel Saprykin’s hand balancing act (pictured), to the prowess of the Russian Bars and the carapace high bars.

Sarah Tessier and Guilhem Cauchois demonstrate why they won the gold medal of Paris’ prestigious Festival du Cirque de Demain with their fixed trapeze duo routine – a cheeky courtship in the sky that marries physical dexterity and strength, while rollerskaters Denise Garcia-Sorta and Massimiliano Medini in an Amerindian inspired routine can still elicit a rapturous response despite a fall – proving we are still human after all.

Evoking visions of a marsh lined with reeds, Carl Fillion’s beautiful design is functional that allows the performance to easily transition, providing a ready canvas for Pedro Pires visual projections that are used to great effect including a desert, the ocean, a volcanic island, and a starry sky. Kym Barrett’s eye-catching costumes feature everything from amphibian like-creatures and traditional ceremonial dress, through to Mayan-inspired cosmonauts and jewel encrusted lycra.

TOTEM illustrates why Cirque du Soleil still has the ability to delight the young and those of us who are young-at-heart with some truly remarkable circus acts while pulling out a few surprises or two.

Grand Chapiteau, Flemington Racecourse, Epsom Road, Flemington
Performance: Wednesday 21 January 2015
Season continues to 29 March 2015
Bookings and information:

Image: OSA Images / Costumes: Kym Barrett / 2010 Cirque du Soleil Inc.

Review: Rohan Shearn