Arts - Thursday January 13, 2011
Totem. Avid Inception fans will immediately think back to the object with which Dom Cobb differentiates between the real and the imaginary. Did it or did it not stop spinning? That is the question. For other Londoners, however, Totem signifies the latest touring Cirque du Soleil show at the Royal Albert Hall. I was lucky enough to win a pair of tickets for the show’s premiere on January 5th and, although I failed to rub shoulders with the celebrities in the stalls, I was blown away by the tremendous performance.
The show is billed as a “fascinating journey into the evolution of mankind.” Take a scientist who mimics Darwin with his hairy beard, a few impressively lifelike monkeys, add an Italian buffoon in extra skimpy swim shorts and you’ve got the basics of the story. Well, sort of. But all that doesn’t matter because nobody honestly goes to the Cirque du Soleil for the plot. Death defying acrobatics, innovative live music, eye-catching costumes and very bright M.A.C. sponsored face make-up; that’s what it’s all about.
The show begins with an enormous turtle shell shaped web – complete with amphibian-like acrobats who throw themselves around the bars to the approving “oohs” and “aahs” of the audience – and ‘Mr. Sparkle’, as I liked to call him, suspended from the ceiling of the Royal Albert Hall in the sparkly-est, glittery-est sequined bodysuit I had ever seen. Spinning away above our heads, with the light bouncing off his suit all around the vast room, he certainly added a touch of glamour to the occasion. Oh, it was beautiful.
Highlights - there were many - included a Native American duo that performed gravity-defying tricks whilst rotating at around 100 mph on a platform that was, quite simply, too small to be safe. Think Pocahontas, but on adrenaline. The motion of hands moving to cover open mouths was reserved for one of my favourite acts of the night, the ‘Lovebirds’, a duo of Canadian trapeze artists who challenged the norms seen in your standard Russian or Chinese circus acts. The act plays with clumsy shapes (that have been rehearsed to perfection) and transitions that make the duo appear more like one single entity – all whilst being suspended high off the ground. At one moment, the guy even hung from the trapeze with a part of the body that is not made for hanging: his neck. No wire suspension, no, none of those safety precautions at all. I couldn’t believe my little Chinese eyes.
Compared with such greatness, however, some acts appeared rather lacklustre. The scientist’s (Greg Kennedy) conic juggling with nine neon glow balls in a massive funnel managed to emulate physics through patterning, but was hardly riveting. And the man who bounced a ping pong ball off his head, shoulders, hands, toes… yawn.
At the end, the circus acts gather one final time to perform a dance that has elements of Bhangra. It was a refreshing approach to bidding adieu and my palms glowed scarlet red from excessively clapping such a brilliant premiere. Cirque du Soleil once again revives the classical circus show and reminds us that, sometimes, the wonders at which we all marvel need not be a giant leap in science, but simply the human body pushing the limits of what we believe to be possible.