Scholars have spent centuries trying to explain evolution.
Cirque du Soleil attempts to trace the history of human evolution in just a few hours in its production of Totem, which opens Thursday on grounds adjacent to Sun Life stadium in Miami Gardens.
In Cirque’s purview, mankind evolves from ape to a walking upright homo sapien to a human pretzel soaring through the air in colorful spandex.
Actually, Totem’s tale is a bit more fleshed-out: It traces the journey of the human species from its amphibian state to its ongoing desire to fly, sans aircraft. The show’s characters — 52 artists who speak 11 languages from 17 t countries — evolve on a stage that evokes a giant turtle, the symbol of origin for many ancient civilizations such as Maya, Chinese, African, Greek and Hindu, among them.
But evolving Cirque itself, after nearly 30 years and 28 shows, would tax Darwin.
Somehow, the troupe manages.
“That’s my secret challenge, to get the job done,” says artistic director Tim Smith. “We do have an expectation that when people come to see Cirque year after year we are letting them dream as much as they did 20 years ago. In this particular production and collaboration with [writer-director] Robert Lepage he came to the table with state-of-the-art technology that continues to elevate the shows year after year.”
For example, Totem will convert the stage floor into a water world for scenes that depict man in amphibious state. But unlike the recent spectacle Cavalia, a man and horse extravaganza on the grounds of Bicentennial Park last year, or O, one of Las Vegas’ seven Cirque shows, Totem does not use water to convey the effect.
“We transform this hard environment to that visual through creative set design, projections and lighting,” explains Smith.
Totem also promises to bring the sexy back through eye-catching costumes, one of which boasts 4,500 minuscule mirrors and crystals, and choreography designed to take advantage of the performers’ impressive physiques.
The opening set piece, “Carapace,” turns a quartet of gymnasts in glittery green costumes into springy frogs who hurl themselves from a power track to a set of parallel bars where they leap and flip around each other and somehow avoid in-air collisions. The live score mixes music culled from American, Asian, Spanish, African and Indian cultures. And, while the band is playing, a troupe from Mongolia on nine-foot unicycles flips metal bowls atop their heads — using their feet.
In other words, it’s Cirque as fans have come to expect, with the Wow Factor on high.
Opening night in Miami Gardens will be Totem’s 1,000th show since its formation three years ago but will represent the first time since 1989 that a big-top production from the company in Miami doesn’t play in the downtown area. Given the construction of the museum, and its impact on space and parking, Cirque opted to set up shop near the Sun Life on the Dade-Broward line.
The grounds, highlighted by the traditional raising of the 66-foot-tall, blue-and-yellow big top, were near completion by Monday. The set-up takes eight days and requires 64 trailers carrying 1,200 tons of equipment to accomplish.
The transformation of grassy, earthen fields into an environmentally controlled cityscape is much like Totem itself, Smith says.
“This travels through our need as mankind from the most primitive point and discovers and explores themes and concepts of our need and desire to continually progress forward.”
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