Cirque du Soleil's TOTEM: An Adrenaline Junkie's Journey Into The Evolution of Mankind

Cirque du Soleil's TOTEM: An Adrenaline Junkie's Journey Into The Evolution of Mankind


A few years ago, after seeing Cirque du Soleil's O in Las Vegas, I pronounced the water-based wonderland my all-time favorite Cirque du Soleil show. Now, San Francisco's in luck; for a few months, the traveling TOTEM has set up tent in AT&T Park. In true Cirque du Soleil form, it is a mesmerizing show that delivers everything the company is known for: extreme acrobatics, dramatic music, muscle-ripped talent, majestic sets, terrific costumes and nature themes. TOTEM transports you back to Pandora to explore the evolution of the human species via acrobatic artistry with hints of comic relief.

Relentlessly creative and passionately primal, Cirque du Soleil shows always push physical boundaries. The last time I remember being so impressed–and inspired–by humans was during the Winter Olympics. Just when you think an act is over, they go there, taking it to the next level, making you exclaim “wow” out loud. And everyone else is saying it too.

Upon entry into the blue and yellow-striped circus tents, a greeter hands you a bamboo stick for “luck.” Toto, we're not in San Francisco anymore...

Right off the bat, the spotlight gets thrown on a silver sequined constantly contorting character being lowered by a cable. This sparkling creature serves as TOTEM's tour guide, making cameos throughout. A floating set of intertwined tree branches crawling with gecko-like creatures makes way for a troop of synchronized bar gymnasts. The excitement begins.

Mentioning every act would spoil, but here are some highlights: a squad of female unicyclists who throw bowls on each other's heads from one foot, while the other foot keeps in perfect back-and-forth unison. A trio of ring gymnasts led by an impossibly chiseled woman in pink. Two women covered in crystallized Empire of the Sun leotards who spin and juggle fabric squares from all fours...upside down. Ultra buff “businessmen” who prop long metal perches on their shoulders, while supporting acrobats who climb, circle and freeze at the top of the perch. You're just waiting for someone to fall.

The second act opens with a red hot toreador spinning his Devil Sticks to a flamenco-inspired beat. This gets you in the mood for a couple of passionate duos, one involving roller skates. The first takes place on a fixed bar swing, where you find yourself struggling to separate the intertwined limbs of two beautiful blondes. TOTEM then takes a tribal turn, where ring dancers make a second cameo and set the stage for a wedding ceremony on the aforementioned roller skates.

Atop a mini drum, a lustful dance on roller skates is fueled by a dramatic live drum. White leather, skin and fringe twirls at high speeds. You don't want the thrill to end.

But it does, in a feel-good finale where the diverse company delivers a high energy dance routine.

The only lowlight of the show is the comic relief acts. Sure, the squirrely, quick-talking Italian is silly and the crazy scientist is mysterious, but when your heart gets pumping from a more exciting, more dangerous act, adrenaline addiction sets in. While Cirque du Soleil is a more mature circus show, the light-hearted acts feel like a necessary evil.

O remains my Cirque du favorite, but TOTEM satiates any Cirque lovers appetite as well as serves as a brilliant introductory show for Cirque virgins. Just be prepared to be left wanting more.

Cirque de Soleil's TOTEM, through December 18 at AT&T Park.

Samantha Durbin ( is a California lifestyle writer who honed her blogging skills as Editor of Samantha graduated from The Fashion Institute of Technology, and also writes for 7x7 Magazine and Gilt City.

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