While it's tough to write about any circus, it's especially difficult to describe the over-the-top antics of Cirque du Soleil. (Thank god for our slide show.) The Canadian troupe is famous for featuring some of the best circus performers in the world (all human, no animals!) and jaw-dropping visuals, from the sets to the costumes, even the lighting design is spectacular.
That said, while I am consistently impressed with Cirque's craft, I don't always love the shows. Some of them are just way too highfalutin for my taste (see Zarkana). I prefer the more earthbound ones, like the insect-themed Ovo, which was a truly unforgettable theatrical experience. So how does Totem rate?
It's a lot of both. Any show that claims to explore the theme of evolution through ethnic folk tales is going to be a bit pretentious. But Totem reaches such glorious heights of absurdity—a super-sexy roller-skating duo decked out in Native American garb, some dude dressed as Darwin juggling illuminated balls in a massive funnel—that it's hard not to get swept away. I kept thinking to myself, this really is your brain on drugs.
While there were a few slow moments like the clown, who spoke in an Italian patois that wasn't very funny and might seem offensive to some, most of Totem moves so fast you barely have a chance to process everything. The audience favorite was definitely the Crystal Ladies, a Vegas-like duo who spin bejeweled pieces of fabric with their hands and feet (it's way more impressive than it sounds—like I said, it's hard to write about Cirque!) but my daughter and I also loved the unicyclists who juggled bowls on their heads (they dropped a few in their finale but got it right the second time) and the comparatively understated trapeze act. So many trapeze routines are about being sexy. This one really stood out because it showed the couple's rocky courtship, which was cute.
So what does all this have to do with evolution and ancient folk tales? Who knows. Who cares! At least the evolution angle gives Cirque a chance to break out incredibly realistic ape costumes and do an awesome live version of Darwin's theory of evolution. There are a lot of other circuses playing in NYC this spring but Totem will stick with you long after the others have faded into memory... and not just because it will take you months to pay off your credit card bill. As always, Cirque does not come cheap: Tickets start at $55 for adults, $45 for children ages 2 to 12 but you can save a few bucks by using the BroadwayBox discount code. Given the price and the fact that it's two and a half hours, Totem is best for school-age kids. The two seven-year-olds I was with both gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
Totem by Cirque du Soleil is playing at Citi Field in Queens through Sunday, May 12.
All photos by OSA Images courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.