Since 1984, Cirque du Soleil has brought its unique blend of dramatic circus art and theatrical street art to audiences around the world, without saying a word. Now that the world-renowned company -- known as much for its set design, lighting design and costume design as it is for its performers -- is exploring the animal spirits that live within all of us in "Totem," the lack of talking makes perfect sense.
"Cirque du Soleil sees the world as a playground," says Cirque publicist Francis Jalbert from the group's base in Montreal. According to Jalbert, Montreal's status as the multicultural crossroads of North America and Europe puts Cirque in the perfect position to bring the best performers and concepts from all over world to the global audience.
"We don't use spoken language so people from all over the world can relate to the performance," he says.
"Totem" is transporting video projections (a world of lava, a waterfall, etc.) and 11 eye-popping performing acts to tell the story of the ancient, unspoken, collective wisdom that lives in all humans -- from the beginning of our spiritual and physical beginnings down at the bottom of the evolutionary totem pole to where we are today. Some may say that our current state is one of great chaos, but "Totem" quietly argues that humanity's beauty is actually quite compelling.
Some acts fit the central theme more literally than others. In one, a giant turtle skeleton is used as a metaphor for Earth, while inside, daring acrobats use a one-of-a-kind combination of a trampoline and high-bars to reach to the heavens. In another, two performers dressed as birds cavort on a fixed trapeze, using a series of lifts and vertical movements to mimic and explore the nature of aerial beings. Other acts feature characters to represent various parts of us -- from the ancient to the modern.
Elsewhere, certain acts challenge the production's concept altogether. Take, for example, the five Chinese teenage girls who ride eight-foot unicycles with one leg, while using their free legs to toss metal bowls to one another. One could say that such balance, grace and synchronicity represent the pinnacle of human achievement. Or it could just be a really nifty circus act.
"We want people to feel their own emotions from what they see and make their own interpretations," says Jalbert. "Make you forget about your own life, and let the emotions come to you."
Where do the ideas for Cirque du Soleil come from?
Cirque du Soleil manages to stay fresh with its 21 current productions by working with a variety of directors. Robert Le Page, a world-renowned theater figure from Quebec City who previously developed Cirque's "KÀ" (2004), was selected to develop the vision for "Totem." Cirque then invites a team of about 10 creators -- ranging from costume designers to lighting designers to composers -- to develop over the course of three years what will eventually be brought to the stage. Then in the final months, artists are brought in to rehearse the show. "Because we work with different people who have different visions," says Jalbert, "We renew ourselves."
If you go
Cirque du Soleil presents 'Totem'
June 10 through July 1
Boston Marine Industrial Park on the Waterfront