Totem, Cirque du Soleil, SF



‘Totem’

Cirque du Soleil
Written and directed by Robert LePage
AT&T Park, San Francisco
Oct. 28-Dec. 18, 2011

I won’t go so far as to say “Totem” is the best Cirque du Soleil spectacle of the bunch. There are quite a few, playing all over the world, and I haven’t seen them all. But I’ve seen enough to say that the version now playing in San Francisco (and opening in San Jose March 2, 2012) is right up there near the top. The costumes (by Kym Barrett) are gorgeous; the acts are thrilling; the clowns actually are funny (which has not always been the case) and the storyline is nonexistent enough not to have to worry about.

Vaguely based on various tribal origin myths, “Totem” presents lithe lizard-like creatures climbing out of the primordial ooze in juxtaposition to a gleaming space super-hero lowered from the top of the playing space. Scientists and corporate suits talking on cell phones co-exist with chimpanzees and a gorilla. Native Americans wander in and out of the scene, dancing, playing drums and, in one particularly arresting segment, falling in love — on roller skates, no less. Director/writer Robert LePage’s trademark technology is firmly in place and frequently amazing, especially the water effect. And, with a big Bollywood ending, it’s as much fun as you’re going to have in a long time.

Five Chinese ladies flip and catch bowls on their heads while riding unicycles; hoop dancer Nakotah LaRance exhibits amazing footwork and the aerialists are graceful and athletic. Pippo Crotti is a very goofy clown, water skiing, bullfighting and flirting with the ladies in the audience and Greg Kennedy’s anthropologist turns out to be quite a juggler. People balance on bars; soar high overhead, emerge from space ships and flirt on trapezes. And it’s all fast enough never to be boring. There’s quite a bit of audience interaction too, both before and during the show and, if you’re sitting in the first few rows, watch out. You may lose your popcorn. But that’s probably the only loss you’ll experience at “Totem.” It’s definitely a winner.

San Francisco, CA
Suzanne Weiss has been writing about the arts for the past 35 years. Formerly Arts Editor for the papers of Pioneer Press in the northern Chicago suburban area, her work also has appeared in Stagebill and Crain’s Chicago Business, among other publications. Since moving to the Bay Area she has reviewed theater, opera, dance and the occasional film for the San Mateo Times, “J” and is a regular contributor to culturevulture. She is the author of “Glencoe, Queen of Suburbs.”