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Cirque du Soleil’s Totem is Tops

Totem, written and directed by Quebecer Robert Lepage, does not disappoint.

Cirque du Soleil’s Totem
The Grand Chapiteau, Port Lands
(Cherry and Commissioners streets)
Selected dates until October 9

When we were a wee Torontoist lass, growing up in the suburbs of this fair city, the big ticket in town was the annual Shriners Circus. So this week, when we approached the blue-and-yellow big top for our first ever Cirque du Soleil show, we’d like to say that our inner child was just bursting with excitement—but really, that’s just how excited we still are as adults. Let’s just say the production values have improved dramatically compared to our childhood circus memories.

Cirque’s latest show explores the evolution of mankind, with everything from a First Nations hoop dancer to acrobats in amphibian attire to the requisite (but gracefully executed) ape-to-caveman-to-businessman line-up. Even science is glamorized! With the help of his monkey assistant, a Darwinesque scientist tinkers with beakers full of fluorescent liquids, then steps inside a cone-shaped chamber to juggle glowing balls that, according to the show’s description, could represent either planets or molecules.

The show doesn’t follow one continuous storyline, but there are enough recurring characters and themes to give it a proper cohesive feel. As well as the aforementioned Native American dancers and the Darwin figure, we see cultures from all over the globe represented—Bollywood music, Australian didgeridoo sounds, colourful costumes inspired by ancient Mayan drawings, and even a gabby Italian clown.

One of the most awe-inspiring parts of Totem, though, is the set, which transforms itself throughout the show. Performers enter the stage through a tall thicket of reeds, and before them, depending on the scene, lies a lake, an active volcano, or a sunny beach with waves lapping at the shore. These active landscapes are projected onto the ground using footage shot on location in places such as Iceland, Hawaii, and Guatemala. For images of the night sky, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté literally travelled into outer space (as part of a mission to promote his water conservation charity, One Drop). So, yeah. They’re not skimping on production values.

But all of this high-concept imagery and metaphor-laden juggling doesn’t mean that you can’t just sit back and enjoy the pure, unadulterated, sparkly goodness of the circus. Because for every cocktail dress–wearing VIP enjoying Cirque’s cushy Tapis Rouge lounge, there’s a bearded father stuffing a too-large handful of popcorn into his young son’s mouth. And under the big top, both are equally impressed by the human disco ball lowering from the ceiling, glittering as the spotlight catches the thousands of tiny mirrors attached to his costume.

Ask the show’s creators, and they’ll tell you he represents the life force. But to us, he’s still a pretty, shiny human disco ball who can contort his body much more impressively than we can.


  • Arina Kharlamova

    I just watched this show last night. It was amazing.

  • William Wolfe-Wylie

    I’ve never seen a Cirque show and I love the portlands – it’s the perfect combination of reasons to go!

  • Dead Robot

    I would love tickets because I look like a monkey and smell like one too.

  • Kim Damato

    I’ve never been before and bought tickets the last time Cirque du Soleil was in the tent (OVO) but ended up getting a ridiculously bad cold and could not make it. Would love to see a show!

  • Allderblob

    I saw Cirque Du Soleil about 10 years ago, and the event was marred by a fight in the stands when the person next to me would not remove her feet from the seat of the person in front of her. Later it turned out she was posing as an audience member and was actually part of the troupe. It was bizarre. I’d like to see them again. This time I won’t be fooled by such shenanigans.

  • Shilpa

    The colours, the action, the magic — it’s all enough to take away the blahs of the Fall weather.
    A little escape, goes a long way. Yes, I’ve loved all the Cirque Shows — so would love to see this one too.

  • S_mantha

    I was an aerialist in a past life and I’d like to see if I could do it again…

  • Lindsay | The Daily Awe

    I’d love to win the tickets torontoist is giving away. I have my mom in town (who is from a small town in the states and never gets the chance to see this kind of thing) and I haven’t seen any Cirque show before, either!

  • Steve

    You should pick me because:

    a) my partner once took a circus course in New Zealand, which not many people can say that they’ve done; and
    b) last winter I made juggling balls out of tennis balls, buckwheat, and electrical tape.

  • Beth Curley

    Please pick me for your ticket giveaway! I have always wanted to see Cirque de Soleil and I am SUCH a poor arts student.

  • Joanna Bull

    I’d like to be picked for your tickets give away! I take aerial silks classes for fun and exercise, and love seeing the professionals at work in the air.

  • Rubene De Sousa

    Can you believe that I haven’t seen ANY Cirque du Soleil?? If you guys want to send me, I would love to go and experience it live. I think my 3 year old (who’s birthday it is today, just saying) would love to go and enjoy it. I would love to see her eyes light up with wonder.

  • Mastermixer99

    I would love to get these tickets because I have just started dating an awesome girl who is a big Cirque fan and this would get me huge brownie points!! Not that I need help or anything ;)

  • Paula

    In grade 7 my french class was focused around Cirque-du-Soleils. I always wanted to go but living in a smaller town 4 ours north of Toronto, I never had the chance. Now that I am living in the city I would love to go but being new here I am just starting to adjust to the high cost of living. Getting free passes would make up for the past 9 years of not being able to go.

  • Adil

    i have seen one cirque show ever and it was kooza, i didnt enjoy it and it didnt get good reviews, but the latest show totem is getting good word of mouth from my friends and good reviews, so it might be good for me to go back and see another cirque show. so pick me.

  • Jess

    I”m a bit of a clown myself and I believe being able to actually see a circus show will help me feel closer to my people! Can’t wait…

  • Melissa P.

    I’d like to get them for my parents; while I was able to enjoy one of their other shows in Las Vegas, my mom and dad waited around for my sister and I since tickets were much too expensive for our entire family. I think they’d really enjoy it!

  • Kevin Hunter

    I don’t deserve a ticket, but I think my ex-wife and our 5 year old son could use the pick-me-up. Her father (also his grandfather) passed away 2 weeks ago unexpectedly from a heart attack at 60 years old. He recently retired from working 15 hour days, every day, at his convenience store. He broke his back for his family and was so relieved and happy when he finally had more time to spend with them. That makes this a tragedy in the truest sense. It has understandably devastated my ex and left our son in a state of confusion. Explaining death to a boy of that age is difficult and he is struggling with losing his best playmate. What a wonderful, if only temporary, reprieve from their mourning a trip to see this show would be. I would be so grateful for your consideration – not for me, but for them. thank you.

  • Kelsey Brennan

    I have never seen a Cirque de Soleil show, but I did once consider running away to join the circus. It’s a pity I was so terrible at gymnastics. Winning the @Torontoist tickets is the only way I could afford to go.

  • Mike Scott

    All my friends seem to think I’m planning to run away and join the circus, but I’d be just as happy just to run away and SEE the circus.

  • Gordon Yarley

    I would love to win the tickets to see Totem. I love seeing the amazing artists at work, and am very proud that Cirque Du Soleil is Canadian. My first year anniversary is coming up for me and my boyfriend soon and this would be a wonderful way to celebrate.

  • Kali Solomon

    I think I should win the tickets because I had spinal surgery in May 2011 (I was only 39) and my tumbling days are over. Being an audience member is as good as it gets right now so seeing Totem would make me at least dream bigger about what might be possible!

  • Anonymous

    Every time they come to town I promise myself I will get tickets, and every time life just gets too busy. I hope I get to see this one!

  • jdmacmillan

    The tickets would be the perfect birthday gift for my aunt… mainly because they would get my uncle out of the dog house for forgetting it

  • Jesse Gold

    I should win the tickets, because it’s the last chance my pregnant wife will get to see a kick-a** show for a VERY looooong time!

  • The2scoops

    I would love tickets to Cirque, I’ve never been! If there’s a chance I may just runaway and join the circus, that’s a chance I’m willIng to take.

  • Ron Mx

    Because I read you almost every day!

  • Stephen Job

    Hmm. How to show my intense yearning to see Cirque du Soleil? I was just telling my roommate last night how desperately I want to go, but that I just can’t pay for tickets for me and my girlfriend right now. She would LOVE it and I’ve been dying to go since I was a kid.

    Since it’s high arts, here are some artistic attempts to express my desire:

    Perhaps a haiku?
    Never mind: ubiquity.
    This form is cliche

    The world’s greatest circus is here
    How to pay for my tickets, I fear
    I’m not even a poet
    These poems should show it
    But I really want to go to Cirque du Soleil badly enough that I’ll even steamroll a LIMERICK FOR IT!!!!!!!!!


    …. and I swear I will read Torontoist every day if you pick me. I mean it. I really do.

  • D. Hopkins

    I hope I win the tickets because I had to make the fiscally responsible (but entertainment-barren) choice not to go to Cirque, and this would be my first time seeing them in Toronto!

  • Angie

    Would love to take my boyfriend who has never been to a Cirque show. It would make an amazing belated birthday present!

  • Francis Judith Gotopo

    I will love to have those tickets!.. Is always good to have a moment to dream and live the magic, and the Cirque du Soleil is all about this.. And also we are new in the city and never been in the portlands!.. We are also in our way to discover and living Toronto!..

  • Steve Craig

    I would love to go to the “Circus” because I already have plenty of bread – and I’m not speaking metaphorically. Well, I am…but only a little.

  • Doug Rox

    I haven’t experience life because I haven’t seen Cirque Du Soleil. Plus I think it would make a great makeup gift after getting into a fight with my girlfriend….

  • Benjamin B

    Please pick me for the Cirque. I’ve played many many circus marches, but never been able to watch the circus and have loved the images from CduS forEVER! But now that I’m married to a poor arts student I can’t afford my own tickets. My life will remain meaningless unless I win a chance to see the Cirque du Soleil!

  • LisaE

    I have had the opportunity to see Cirque live (thanks Mom!) but my 4 year old has not. To win free Cirque tickets would be so much fun for him and I to experience something magical together!

  • Prettypistolx

    My Boyfrend and I have always wanted to go, and we are coming up on our 5 year anniversary, sadly that same day will be 3 years since his dad has passed. This would be such a wonderful gift for us.

  • Andrea Valenzuela

    I want to run away and join the circus. If you give me the tickets I could finally make that dream come true… and I could take my daughter who believes all furniture in our home is there to help her avoid stepping on the floor.

  • Andrea M

    I’ve never been to a Cirque de Soleil show before, but Totem looks and sounds absolutely incredible. I think I could even get my husband to be my date for this one! I would love to check it out :)

  • Mykalrussell

    To fulfill my childhood dream of running away to join the circus vicariously through crique.

  • mikerotenberg

    I have been called both a clown and a monkey by my wife. I would like to prove to her that I am but an amateur in this regard.

  • Alex B

    I wanted to get couple of tickets back in July when they were still avaliable, but was not sure if my girlfriend would come to visit me in Canada. Now she is coming this Sunday but the show is sold out. I really want to surprise her…

  • Pat

    i would love to go… so i can fuel my fantasies of running away to join the circus…

  • nib

    i’d love those tickets so that i can feel like a failure for not being able to reach my toes

  • Jenn_and_selena

    I would love to be able to take my 10 year old daughter to see Totem. We have had a difficult year and I am appealing to your compassion.. I had an accident on Jan 24, dislocating my foot, broke the fibula and tore the ligament that runs between the leg bones. I had surgery two days later. For my daugters 10th birthday I got a new fiberglass cast.. And she had to miss having a party. I have been on disability ever since and am finally walking. My bone is still broken, and the doctors feel a few things could be contributing, namely stress. 1 week after surgery my landlords announced they had to sell our house, three weeks before moving my partner left me. My mother lives with me and my kiddo, suffers from COPD and was diagnosed with C. Difficile on Tuesday. It seems like this year has brought one obstacle after another, but we are surviving. A night out to something like Totem would be a dream come true, for my daugter especially. She has always been mesmerized by Cirque.. It would mean the world to us to win. Thanks for reading.

  • Ashrules212

    You should choose me because everyday should be mother’s day and I would be taking my very hardworking, dedicated, loving mother to the show as a treat!

  • Dee

    I would love tickets so that my daughter and I could go! She would love ti!

  • 416pro

    I would do a series of live tweets using #torontoist… and have a fantastic time doing it!

  • Anonymous

    After leaving my job and moving back to Toronto, all I was able to afford as a gift for my partner’s birthday was socks. Awesome socks, but socks nonetheless. I know that he would love for me to take him to the Cirque, but so far, funemployment has had other plans for me… Torontoist to the rescue?

  • Dianne de Savoye

    I have been scared of the circus (and clowns) since I was in Kindergarten and a clown dropped a basket of fake eggs over my head. A friend told me Totem would be a great way to get over my fear, I’d love to win the tickets to conquer this 30 year phobia

  • Dianne de Savoye

    I have been scared of the circus (and clowns) since I was in Kindergarten and a clown dropped a basket of fake eggs over my head. A friend told me Totem would be a great way to get over my fear, I’d love to win the tickets to conquer this 30 year phobia