Art and Performing Arts Review

Review: Cirque's 'Totem' is seductive and magical

By Zaki JufriEvents - 30 October 2015 11:09 AM | Updated 12 November 2015

Review: Cirque's 'Totem' is seductive and magical

Our Rating

4/5 Stars

Although ‘Totem’  – Cirque Du Soleil’s latest travelling circus – has as its theme centered around the story of humankind's evolution, it is also a celebration of the Native American culture. 

From the traditional costumes, music, songs and dance, the show draws on elements of the culture, with the blessings of traditional leaders.

“These are very sensitive subjects and we wanted to approach it with respect as well as lend a level of authenticity. Everything that is presented that is Native American has been approved by a group of leaders from a tribe in Quebec,” Neelanthi Vadivel, the show’s artistic director explained.

“Robert Lapage (the creator of ‘Totem’) felt that if the show wanted to tell the story of human evolution, it needed to talk about the creation stories as well. The First Nations (aboriginal peoples of Canada) have their own stories and some of them are similar to cultures everywhere and Robert wanted those elements to be part of the show,” Vadivel told

Double rings artiste Alevtyna Titarenko | Photo: Cirque Du Soleil

‘Totem’ is the fourth Cirque production to stage here after ‘Saltimbanco’ in 2000, ‘Alegria’ in 2002 and ‘Quidam in’ 2005.

And it’s not just Native American elements that are borrowed: bits and bobs of Spanish, Indian, Chinese and Peruvian cultures feature throughout the show to explore the universality of mankind.

‘Totem’ begins with understated pizzaz: an acrobat dressed as a human mirrorball is lowered from the heavens into the bowels of a giant turtle's shell. His descent awakens a group of reptillian creatures; acrobats who spring out of the primordial ooze to swing around the shell's bony structure. And thus begins the story of mankind.

The cast of 'Totem' | Photo: Zaki Jufri

What followed then are amazing feats of athleticism and elegance that is punctuated by vignettes of hilarious comedy.

There’s Native American hoop dancing, muscled beach acrobatics on the flying rings, primate tomfoolery, air-guitaring cave-men, heart-stopping romance on the trapeze, a quintet of feathered and flowered unicyclists juggling metal bowls, a Native America wedding on rollerskates and a Charles Darwin-like scientist spinning bills inside a gigantic beaker.

The show stopping finale evokes an otherworldly visit from what appears to be extra-terrestials and it takes audiences though a breathtaking display of intricate aerial tumbling with sure-footed high-flying acrobats on the Russian Bars.

Russian bars act | Photo: Zaki Jufri

Writer-director Lapage’s visual panache is evident throughout the show, presenting stunning choreography of routines that slowly simmers in its difficulty while gorgeously balancing props, lighting and costumes. The live beats from the house band led by bandleader Joshua Geisler are infectious while singer Esi Acquaah-Harrison’s vocals seductive. Lead singer Christian Laveau songs (and chants) in his native Wendake is particularly stirring.

And the costumes. Designed by the award-winning Kym Barrett (of ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Cloud Atlas’ fame), the vivid and imaginative pieces are undoubtedly some of the best we’ve seen. Every performer’s costume is different and the attention to detail – the patterns, sequins, feathers and ribbons – is phenomenal.

Perhaps one of the best shows from the Canadian troupe’s repertoire, ‘Totem’ combines a smart narrative full of cultural references, and acts of strength, precision, timing and balance that literally are breathtaking.

Cirque Du Soleil - Totem

Cirque Du Soleil - Totem

Date Oct 28, 2015 - Dec 13, 2015

VenueUnder the Big Top next to Marina Bay Sands

Ticket PriceS$98.00 - S$328.00
 (excludes booking fee)