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'Totem' is a non-chronological journey through man’s evolution from swamp creature to cosmonaut.

Interview: Neelanthi Vadivel, Artistic Director of Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Totem’

totem 8Neelanthi Vadivel is the Artistic Director of Cirque du Soleil’s show Totem. We asked her a few questions about the production and her involvement in it.

What is Totem all about, storywise?

Totem is a visual feast of high-level acrobatics displayed within a lush scenic environment created with interactive projections and colourful costumes. It is a non-chronological journey through man’s evolution from swamp creature to cosmonaut.

What sort of acts are incorporated in the show?

Totem incorporates a variety of disciplines that are raising the bar again for Cirque du Soleil. One of the highlights of the show is a duet perched high on a Fixed Trapeze, performing jaw-dropping acrobatics while telling the story a two young adults falling in love. It is the perfect balance of emotions and stunts. Each act is beautifully staged and brings a unique set of skills. We even reinvented the art of juggling by creating a conic structure in which a juggler rolls glowing balls around his body; it looks like a scientist is manipulating atoms inside a giant beaker!

What will audiences enjoy most about this production?

My own favorite part is definitely the music and the way the entire show makes you feel when you leave the tent – generally euphoric. I think the audience will enjoy being carried away by the beats and earthiness of Totem; it is traveling through eras and various parts of the world without leaving your seat. The costumes, the video projections and the set are a sublime support to the thrilling skills of acrobats; the whole package is simply gorgeous.

How long did it take to craft the production, from vision to finished product? In what year did this take place?

Totem opened in April 2010 after close to three years of idealization, pre-production, casting and creation. There is a lot of work done by the creation team before the artists step [into] the rehearsal room. Artists usually come in in the last eight months of the process.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you come to be the Artistic Director of Totem?

I joined Cirque du Soleil as a dancer in the production Dralion. In 2009, I hung up my dancing shoes to transition into management as an assistant to the Artistic Director. In 2010, the company handed me the reins of the production Saltimbanco and I have not looked back since.

How has your experience been so far being overall in charge of this show?

My role is to maintain the original intent of the creative director, Robert Lepage, within the high quality standards of Cirque Du Soleil. I also manage the 46 artists in the cast and continuously challenge them to improve and grow.

Do you go to plays or musicals? 

I do! It is important for me to see other shows and genres than Cirque du Soleil and be fed creatively. I also like to see what is out there and what audiences like to attend.

Which is your favourite play and/or musical?

My favorite musical would be Once. I love its storytelling, its stage directing and the unique talent of the actors who also have to be amazing singers and musicians.

 

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.

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