Totem’s tale of evolution, of human history and the stories we tell to explain our roots, has been on the road since 2010.
Cirque du Soleil is in its 31st year, touring 18 shows concurrently, working on an Avatar-themed production and adjusting to the recent sale of the company to American, Canadian and Chinese investors. In these busy, tumultuous times, Totem reaches our gates. Totem’s tale of evolution, of human history and the stories we tell to explain our roots, has been on the road since 2010. Robert Vezina, assistant artistic director, has been part of the production since 2011. Vezina explains that the show was born out of a collaborative spirit encouraged by director Robert Lepage. “He comes from the theatre business and his way of working is very communal, very engaging,” says Vezina. He incorporated the performers’ cultural backgrounds within the story. “These people who have not a lot of experience in theatre, when they came to the creation of Totem and were asked to participate and asked to come up with ideas and improvise – that was a big, big thing for them. That was very different. It was a novel approach even by Cirque veterans’ standards. “There’s nothing like being asked your opinion and feeling like you’re participating in the creation of a show. I think that really helped. Because of that, it created a family feeling on Totem, and that feeling exists today. We pride ourselves a little on being a nice group.” An outstanding feature of this nice group is the retention of artists. There are 46 performers in Totem. Even though some minor injuries and unsafe weather conditions have seen a few acts sidelined interstate, Vezina estimates that 90 percent of the current performers are from the original cast. It’s a phenomenal achievement, proving the commitment of the acrobats, dancers and clowns to Lepage and to the creative vision of Totem. The vision, exquisite costumes, extraordinary make-up and wizardry of the choreography are all calling cards of this megalithic company. Cirque has carved an impressive niche in the global psyche, and is renowned as one of the world’s premier circus companies. This reputation means that Cirque is “condemned to excellence” says Vezina. It’s a challenge only compounded by increased competition from China, Russia, Europe and, more recently, North America. With these pressures building, the arts community has looked on curiously at the sale of Cirque by founding fire-eater Guy Laliberté. Reportedly, the deal was worth up to $1.5 billion. “Guy is still there; maybe he doesn’t have a majority [share] but it’s just, basically, that he’s been doing this for so long, it’s gotten so big, it’s changed his life,” explains Vezina. With a little hyperbole, he continues: “He’s gone to the moon because of this. He will make sure that it keeps on going more or less the same way as it’s going now. “It’s like anything. Let’s say you have a band and you get extremely popular; the bar is set after that … it’s always a challenge to renew yourself. We’ve seen that Cirque du Soleil in the last many years have been trying to renew themselves, sometimes successfully, sometimes a bit less, but it’s trial and error and they are trying to expand.” A predicted growth through China will, Vezina speculates, bring new talent, new techniques and new stories for Cirque to share. In the meantime, however, Totem takes to the Big Top on Thursday, June 11. Cirque du Soleil Totem Season begins on Thursday, June 11 cirquedusoleil.com/totem