Cirque du Soleil’s Totem brims with skill but lacks in plot

Don’t go to see Totem, Canadian mega-troupe Cirque du Soleil’s long-running evolution extravaganza, expecting to follow some sort of plot.

Although the show is based on the timeline of human development, from ape-like pre-historic man to the enlightened mad-scientist version of Darwin, the mishmash of acrobatic and clowning sequences provide little chronological sense or rhythm.

What those sequences do depict marvellously, however, is the jaw-dropping nerve and skill of some of the world’s elite gymnastic performers.

Highlights included a quintet of petite female unicyclists who balanced bowls on their feet, hoisted them up in the air and caught them on top of their own and each other’s heads.

They performed this bowl catching magic at first in a line-up and then while cycling frenetically round each other with an ease equivalent to you or I catching a ball thrown slowly in our direction a mere metre away.


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Later on, a male/female duo who intertwined their impossibly supple bodies mid-air aboard a swing managed to be both beautiful and romantic.

Roller skaters, high bar aerial performers and trapeze artists completed the line-up along with a few clownish sequences.

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If you’ve never seen the troupe in action before you’d have to be pretty detached not to be stirred by the sheer level of physical aptitude on display but, if you have, you might end up feeling it’s all much of a muchness.

There is something slightly robotic about the performances, whether that be a product of the direction and choreography or just that the storyline is so weak.

But the score is moving and wonderful, with a Native American influence and perfectly-timed drum build-ups and the acts themselves wonderfully talented.

Totem is at the Royal Albert Hall until February 16.

See royalalberthall.com

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