The circus is in town! But this big top is like no other I’ve ever seen. I was very privileged to be invited to see TOTEM by Cirque du Soleil which has pitched its giant tent in Melbourne before it tours Australia wide. This was my first Cirque experience and it was incredible.
From the moment you walk into the giant blue and yellow tent you are immersed in another world where humans take on animal forms and the laws of gravity seem like they don’t apply.
TOTEM traces the fascinating journey of the human species from its original amphibian state to its ultimate desire to fly. Inspired by many founding myths, TOTEM illustrates, through a visual and acrobatic language, the evolutionary progress of species.
And if watching this spectacular show wasn’t a treat enough, I was also invited back stage after to show to meet some of the performers, take a look at the costumes close up and get a little glimpse behind the scenes of how this ‘Village on Wheels’ is designed efficiently to pack up and travel around the world.
Seeing the costumes close up on the performers was amazing. The design and workmanship that goes into every piece was incredible.
The costumes worn by these talented twins are based on Lycra body stockings and adorned with 3,500 crystals. The headdresses are each encrusted with a further 1,000. As you can imagine all these sparkles add quite a lot of weight to the costumes, and the team of designers are constantly adjusting and redesigning to make them lighter and easier to move in. The cast member that performs Crystal Man wears a leotard entirely covered in small mirrors and crystals. The glittering mobile mosaic is made up of about 4,500 reflective components. When he started performing the mirrors were make of glass which made for an extremely heavy costume especially for performing aerial acrobatics. But the glass has since been replaced by acrylic mirrors, cutting the weight of the costume in half.
I particularity liked the costume design of the Cosmonauts. Close up you could really see the layering of textures using various techniques including applique, beading and printing. So much attention to detail.
The Cosmonauts are wearing two costumes in one: when they first appear (under black light), their body-hugging Lycra suits glow dramatically in the dark, but as soon as the stage lights kick in, their look is completely transformed. Some of the printed motifs recall Mayan drawings, and each artist is wearing an individual variation on the theme.
Each costume is custom fitted to the bodies of the artists and handcrafted at the Cirque du Soleil International Head Quarters in Montreal.
The 750 costume pieces seen on stage in TOTEM (and the exact same amount of back-up pieces traveling with the show) are being carefully looked after by a team of three permanent wardrobe staff members and three local employees. The daily tasks of the team include repairing and maintaining all pieces, double-checking all elements impacting the performance, falling sequins, loose beads, tears. And apart from spare costumes, there is a meticulously organized collection of fabric and embellishments stored in drawers for each costume, should a major repair be required.
As you can imagine I was in fabric heaven, and was dying to dive into those drawers. For me it was almost as fascinating as the show.
The wardrobe staff also have the roll of helping artists get into costume and machine or and washing all pieces touching the human skin. Due to all the wear and tear from performing and daily washing the average lifespan of the TOTEM costume pieces is 6 months.
The washing machines were going at full throttle after the show.
This video is really interesting – Kym Barrett, costume designer for the show TOTEM by Cirque du Soleil talks about her inspiration.
If you get the opportunity to see TOTEM, I highly recommend it for the whole family.
To learn more about the show and to book tickets check out the website www.cirquedusoleil.com/totem