I had the pleasure of an amazing experience last week, when I was invited to attend Cirque du Soleil TOTEM. What's more, I was privileged enough to go on a backstage tour and meet some of the performers.
This was the first time I've experienced Cirque du Soleil so to say I was excited was an understatement. If you haven't heard of Cirque du Soleil, you must be living under a rock. It is one of the biggest productions around, currently with 19 shows worldwide. It started with its humble beginnings in a small town near Quebec City, Canada, with 20 street performers in 1984. Today it employs over 5000 people who originate from 50 different countries, including more than 1300 artists.
TOTEM took us through a journey of evolution, from our original amphibious nature all the way through to our quest for flight. Along the way the performers tell a magical story (and at times, humorous one!) taking us through different stages of life including neanderthals, primates and modern day scientists.
Here is the official trailer for the show (which you can find at their official YouTube Channel)...
I'm probably biased because of my love for health and fitness and particularly because of my fascination with bodyweight strength training, but I never cease to be amazed by how incredibly strong and flexible the human body can be. The acrobats and gymnasts are just incredible.
The very first act entailed a dazzling character known as 'The Crystal Man', who comes from space and sparks life on earth. For the majority of his performance, he is hanging upside down suspended from a cable. His costume is covered entirely in small mirrors and crystals - over 4,500 reflective pieces, which sparkle like diamonds.
He descends into a marsh covered with a turtle shell like feature and surrounded by frogs and fish, whose costumes are mimicked on the colours and patterns of real frogs and fish. These 'frogs' jump and swing from the turtle shell constructed as parallel bars, making it look effortless. What I loved about this was that it just looked like so much fun. It was like children playing on the bars at a playground. I just wanted to join in with them - although I would have fallen flat on my face on the first go!! haha.
The Roman Rings and the Hand Balancing acts were definitely my favourites. The strength and athleticism of these guys was so impressive. To have that much control over your body takes a lot of dedication and hard work and left me inspired to want to work on my own body strength. I could watch these performances all day long...
There were so many amazing acts, I could go on about all of them. Special mentions include:
The Unicyclists - 5 talented women riding on unicycles whilst balancing bowls on their heads, throwing bowls from their feet and catching them on their head or throwing them from their feet to each other's head.
The Foot Jugglers - Two crystal-laden women who juggle squares of glittering material on their hands and feet, all whilst lying upside down OR whilst balancing on each other in a spectacular array of gymnastic poses.
The Russian Bars - 10 artists dressed as Cosmonauts perform feats of strength and balance. Two of them display impressive acrobatic skills on top of flexible bars, held in place entirely by the other Cosmonauts.
Two hours of incredible acts on and we were left sitting in our seats wanting more, however, all good shows must come to an end. Luckily for myself and a few others, we were soon met by the tour publicist, Francis Jalbert, who took us backstage, starting with an introduction to some of the cast members.
They were absolutely incredible. The balance, co-ordination and synchronisation between the group required for such an act was nothing but spectacular.
This lead singer is from England and told us she's 54 years old, only started her professional singing career at 45 with the Lion King stage show in Paris, after previously being an accountant for years and years. Her mantra was, 'It's never too late to follow your dreams'.
To see the costumes and makeup up close was really special. Each artist is responsible for doing their own makeup for each show. Below is one of the 'frogs' with his full face of makeup but no costume. What struck me most was how lovely they all were and how comfortable they were talking to us. I felt like I was meeting celebrities, but they seemed really excited to tell us about their lives.
A large portion of backstage is a dedicated gym space with ropes, rings, cables, parallel bars, weights and floor space for the performers to practice and warm up in. A few of the performers were cooling down whilst we were there before a bus would take them all back to their accommodation off-site.
Francis then showed us the costume and makeup area. The costumes for TOTEM were designed by Australia's very own Kym Barrett (who also designed the costumes for The Matrix Trilogy, Romeo & Juliet and The Amazing Spider-man).
This gorilla mask is one of many masks in the show that is hand made including each individual hair being sewn in separately - over 50 hours of work.
There are 750 costume pieces for TOTEM (as well as 750 backup pieces). Cirque du Soleil has three dedicated wardrobe staff members who are solely responsible for looking after them, including repairing, maintaining and washing each piece. They also hire the assistance of three locals to help with the laundering process. Each of the items are specifically made and moulded to each artist individually and manufactured at head office in Montreal.
During my time backstage, I was lucky enough to ask 'The Crystal Man' and one of the Roman Rings performers questions about their background, fitness regime and diet. Here are some interesting facts I found out:
- Both men have a background in gymnastics. One being approached by a scout for Cirque du Soleil and the other auditioning.
- They only train for approximately half an hour per week! "No way!" I thought, but when you consider they have 8-10 performances per week, that's the equivalent of 8-10 training sessions right there.
- A full kitchen travels with the TOTEM crew and provides them with meals throughout the day. There is no regimented diet they are required to adhere to though. Each artist is responsible for choosing what they eat, whether it be 'healthy' food or 'not so healthy' food. As you can imagine though, as with many elite athletes, the gymnasts choose to eat well and nourish their bodies with good food so they stay in the best shape possible and perform at optimal levels.
- None of the performers have children and very few have partners. They told us it is very much a single person's life as their travelling schedule leaves very little time for relationships. They become each other's family and form close bonds and friendships with the other cast members.
It was such a magical experience to attend Cirque du Soleil's TOTEM and even more so to be invited backstage for a behind the scenes tour and I am so grateful to Cirque du Soleil for the invitation.
TOTEM is currently playing in Melbourne at Flemington Racecourse, but only until 29 March 2015, so be sure to go see it before it finishes up.
You can purchase tickets and get further information from the Cirque du Soleil TOTEM website, emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling on 1800 036 685.
It was an unforgettable experience and I hope you get the chance to enjoy it as much as I did.