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Cirque du Soleil’s Totem review at Royal Albert Hall, London – ‘ambitious, but patchy’

Scene from Cirque du Soleil's Totem at Royal Albert Hall
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Written and directed by Robert Lepage, Cirque du Soleil’s Totem was last in the UK in 2011.  The ambitious show loosely chronicles the evolution of man and beast, from creeping reptile to modern humans trying to conquer flight. In turn, each of the segments is a vehicle for members of the company to showcase their particular skills, such as contortionist floor acrobatics or a variation of Chinese pole.

There are some parts of Totem that are thoroughly entertaining, particularly those that provide opportunities for the cast to perform show-stopping feats. The balancing act by five female unicyclists throwing bowls is a crowd favourite, as is the fixed trapeze double act of Louis-David Simoneau and Marie-Christine Fournier.

But as astonishing as these sequences are, other parts of the show just feel like filler. This is especially true of the clowning segments and a drawn out joke involving a Speedos-wearing Italian tourist.

Certain sections of Totem, meanwhile, are mesmeric in part because of their utter bizarreness. The roller-skating mating ritual of two performers costumed as semi-dressed Native Americans is particularly mind-boggling – the way Totem handles race feels dated, to say the least.

Given the scale of the show and the resources at the company’s disposal, Totem is surprisingly low on energy and pizzazz. It sparkles in places, but falls short of being genuinely thrilling.

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Return of Cirque du Soleil’s ambitious but decidedly patchy 2011 show