TOTEM, the latest show by Canada's Cirque du Soleil, has been running here in Tokyo since February 3 and is due to finish here on June 26 (with a short break from April 11 to 18).
My partner and I went to see it last night: a balmy spring evening strolling from Daiba station on the Yurikamome Line from Shinbashi through the magical lights of Odaiba.
It was a full house at Big Top, which is a big enough venue to generate a palplaby big buzz among an audience, but compact enough to give even those in the far seats an engaging experience.
This was our first big-stage performance experience in about five years, since we saw the Lion King in Singapore, so we were excited.
In the minutes before the start of the show, outlandishly gotten-up performers mingled with the crowd that was finding its seats, providing on-the-spot entertainment from the moment you entered the space and setting an air of oddball fun.
The performance proper began a minute or two after 7 pm with effusive japes and jollity by a comic pair of guys, mixing a few Japanese phrases - which delighted the audience - with excitable Italianesque remonstrativeness and slapstick physicality. From there on in, it launched into the epic journey through time and the ever greater dreams and ambitions of the human race.
TOTEM is a show themed on human evolution, and makes especial use of the technological gaps between what were to become humans (i.e., monkeys), primitive humans, today's humans, and humans as imagined in the future. Showcasing the creativity that humans have evolved, this theme enhanced the spectacle of the physical prowess they have also developed, such as breathtaking coordination, litheness, honed reflexes, dexterity, balance, and control.
The pace was steady, with acts alternating between lighthearted and epic, but never rushed. The staging was perfect, and the constantly churning apprehension of something going wrong remained deliciously unsatisfied. (Some of the comic acts, however, interspersed between the staple acts, mainly for the kids, actually dragged on a little for the adults.)
The constantly morphing (evolving?) stage was something of a technical marvel, transforming from ocean to desert to spaceship to circus stage - to name just a few scenarios. The occasionally extended - and very phallic - "scorpion bridge" was particularly thrilling to watch as it majestically extended every upwards and outwards, its underside a blizzard of laser.
The sound was one of the most memorable elements of the show, evoking just the right feel for each act over a massive surround system that - at least for these ojisan ears - wasn't too, too loud, either. As you'd expect from the name of the show, much of the music features tribal sounds, from viscerally rhythmic to haunting, apparently drawn from native North American culture.
I won't spoil things by going through the often stupendous, on-the-edge-of-your-seat acts, only to say that the unicycles and bowls was one of the most skillful - and droll - acts I have ever seen and that I will always remember it.
TOTEM is a trip through an emporium of emotions. Thoroughly wowed, we left just as excited as when we'd entered. Not for nothing was TOTEM the 2013 winner of the Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience.
We paid 10,000 yen each for seats 15 rows from the stage, facing it almost front on, but tickets start from ￥7,500 and go up to ￥42,000.
Once finished in Tokyo, TOTEM goes to Osaka (starting July 14, 2016), Nagoya (November 10, 2016), Fukuoka (February 2017), and Sendai (April 2017).
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