Cirque du Soleil TOTEM backstage-13

Our reviewer Cora Li recently attended (and reviewed) Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM, and was by all accounts wowed, enough so that when there came an opportunity for bloggers to get a behind-the-scenes look at the show, I was fully on board!

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Last night, a group of us watched the show (and yes, it is highly worthy of the praise Cora gave it), and were greeted afterwards by two of Cirque TOTEM’S company.

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Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM Touring Publicist Francis Jalbert and Company Manager Jeff Lund divided us into two groups, and we were led through the stage area, and eventually backstage, where several cast members (still in costume) greeted us and posed for photos.

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Those bamboo reeds are inflatable with mylar behind them to double their number in appearance. An infrared camera senses when artists are on stage to correlate with the fantastic video projections (by Pedro Pires) that make movement appear so lifelike from our seats. The stage itself is made to resemble a cut-off tree trunk.

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Artists warm up and practice daily in the artistic tent. There’s a massage room, pilates machine, free weights, and everything you see here in the photos, including makeup, costumes, props, equipment, and training areas.

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With eight to 10 performances a week, Cirque shows demand a great physicality, and you can see from the artists in these photos that it takes a lean build to catapult oneself onto a trapeze, to juggle, balance, and flip around on stage in any manner of twists and turns.

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The costume and makeup area is a visual feast. Racks of performers’ clothes are meticulously hung and ready to grab. A makeup bible outlines the process needed for each character. Makeup can take up to two hours prior to showtime, with 25 to 30 steps needed to complete each artist’s look!

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[This is a mask worn to airbrush dots onto artists’ faces, an improvement over hand-applying!]

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[Bottom photo: Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM Company Manager Jeff Lund]

Three wardrobe staff are on hand; all costumes are created at Cirque’s Montreal headquarters. Need a quick alteration? Sewing gear’s all here, set to go.

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Further back on site are a series of trailers – a restaurant (employing four full-time chefs), school, administrative offices, etc. The site runs on its own generators and thus doesn’t rely on the city’s power grid.

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The Cirque ‘family’ includes 14 children (11 of school age) taught on a Quebec-based curriculum. There are three school teachers employed to teach them while their parents are on the road. No one’s left behind on a production that tours for several months internationally.

On this show alone, 13 different languages are spoken and artists hail from 21 different countries. After Vancouver, TOTEM will travel to New Zealand for six weeks, and then on to Australia for 11 months. The show’s been going strong in the US for three and a half years, with big-top shows receiving their premieres in Montreal.

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This year, Cirque du Soleil will present 19 different shows around the world. Catch TOTEM at Concord Pacific Place through July 6.


  • Comment by Erin — June 4, 2014 @ 9:19 pm

    Wow, how incredible would it be to be a kid on tour with your parent? Amazing, love that they have a travelling school. The stories they will have to tell when they grow up!

  • Comment by Ariane Colenbrander — June 4, 2014 @ 9:24 pm

    Think of the colorful, world view you’d get growing up!

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