Cirque du Soleil Returns to Atlanta with TOTEM

Story by Jaime Lin Weinstein

Cirque du Soleil TOTEM

If you’ve been near Atlantic Station in Atlanta, Ga., since Saturday you've likely caught a glimpse of the now infamous blue and yellow ‘Grand Chapiteau,’ otherwise known as Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Village on Wheels’ — a somewhat familiar sight that has now graced our city a total of 11 times. This season, the site (which seats 2,600 under its 11,500 pounds of canvas) will be the stage for TOTEM, one of the latest touring shows produced by the Canadian entertainment company and brought to fruition by Writer/Director Robert Lepage and Artistic Director Tim Smith.

TOTEM, which premieres in Atlanta on Oct. 26, “traces the fascinating journey of the human species from its original amphibian state to its ultimate desire to fly,” and it does so in a way that only Cirque du Soleil can, through a visual, musical and acrobatic language that seems to exceed the limits of our human capabilities. The main set itself — a large, elaborate framework designed in the likes of a giant turtle (an amphibian that represents the origin of the earth in many ancient myths and oral traditions) – serves as both a decorative set element and acrobatic equipment upon which ‘amphibians’ perform on parallel bars and leap through the air from power tracks that are revealed beneath the turtle’s massive shell.


And while Cirque shows have the magnificent ability to transport viewers to the fantasy worlds they create, TOTEM’s world is very much based on nature and the reality of our own planet. Images of our natural world, such as waterfalls, swamps, boiling lava and a starry sky, are projected on the set and even interact with the artists on stage. Infrared cameras are positioned around the set to detect the movement of the actors and produce effects such as ripples, splashes and reflections in the water and the flames. The costume designs are also rooted in reality. The patterns and colors of real fish and frogs are replicated on the fabrics through advanced printing techniques and fabric treatments in order to mimic the textures, as well as the colors and markings of these real-life creatures. Even the music (arranged by Charles Dennard, a native of Macon, Ga.) aims to reflect the primal theme of the production with profound elements from Native American music.

TOTEM Roller Skates

TOTEM’s “sky’s the limit” approach, as described by Mr. Smith in reference to the show’s state-of-the-art technology and intricate composition of acts, music, costumes and sets, is analogously what the show hopes to evoke: the evolution of mankind and the infinite potential of human beings.

TOTEM Evolution

Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM will run from Oct. 26 through Dec. 16 with evening and matinee performances. Tickets are available for purchase online at And don’t be late — Smith says the opening is one of his favorite acts calling it, “unusually beautiful and exciting, intricate and deep.”