Monday, November 2, 2015

Cirque du Soleil's 'Totem' at MBS in Review



Our correspondent Jeremy Lee attended Cirque du Soleil's Totem, now running at MBS till 6 December 2015. Here are his thoughts:



Spellbinding. Gravity-defying. Superhuman.

These are the adjectives that one might use to describe Totem, the latest show of Cirque du Soleil, now playing in Singapore again after so many years, next to the Marina Bay Sands.

But I’m sure they will be used in other reviews, so I shall choose another word: Gratuitous.

According to Cirque du Soleil, Totem is about “humankind’s incredible journey” from amphibian to flight. From the astonishingly intricate costumes, we can see how it’s supposed to show that: In one sequence, performers clad in quite realistic ape costumes monkey around on stage and mimic the Darwin’s evolution of man line up; performers dressed in skin-tight colourful “amphibian” togs swing around on high bars and a trampoline. And of course, trapeze artists soar high above our heads.

The real star of the show though, costume-wise, is a magnificent glittery-from-top-to-toe number, whose lucky wearer ascends on a trapeze to become a human disco ball. Though I couldn’t tell how this fit in into the theme of evolution, it was certainly stunning.



Besides the costumes, the set design is also bang for one’s buck. The opening sequence features a webbed structure for the aforementioned amphibians to do their thing. Towards the back of the stage, the floor opens up for performers to appear and disappear, and the sliding lid extends to form a bridge, curls up in the shape of a ball or just hangs around to become - in an unlikely turn - a speedboat. A performer gets into a funnel-like contraption the size of a car to juggle balls glowing with light and colour, complemented by multi-coloured beakers that double up as a sort of percussion instrument to complete the “laboratory” setting.

All the goings-on is set to “live” music from a band of talented musicians.



However impressive the costumes, stage design, music and obvious attention to detail, though, it’s quite apparent that the theme of evolution lacks unity, and they are just glittering episodes in an absorbing stage extravaganza. Interspersed between the showpiece acrobatic acts were comic ones, such as one featuring a clown in a boat and another nautical-themed one involving the speedboat. These don’t seem to serve much purpose except as breaks between the really show-stopping sets, perhaps to let the crew get ready for the next one.

But like I’m sure most of the audience did, I wasn’t bothered about thematic coherence at all. What really captured our attention were the nerve-jangling acrobatics.

My favourite sequence was a simple one: A man and a woman dressed in just tights, sharing one trapeze. The woman proceeds to cheat death by being dangled around by various body parts. I couldn’t take my eyes off the couple, and even breathe, for fear that a false move might send her plunging to her demise (despite them performing with a safety mattress).

So much so, that for all the nice costumes, sets, the show for me boiled down to just that: A couple cavorting on high. The rest was just gratuitous.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the true purpose of circus shows like these: To just enjoy seeing humans transcend the realms of possibility, and show us something that takes our breath away.



Totem is runniin at MBS till 6 December. Get your tickets at SISTIC.

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