Cirque du Soleil Totem – Behind the Scenes and Review!

Cirque du Soleil is known to bring breathtaking, theatrical and unbelievably marvelous acrobatics on stage.  Totem is the latest Cirque du Soleil production to land on Taylor Street in San Jose, California and I had the privilege of taking a behind the scenes tour prior to seeing the actual show on Friday, March 2nd.

It was certainly an interesting treat touring backstage and inside the tent where the performers trained and practiced daily.  I even got to see one of the unicyclists practice her moves while on the cycle and kicking bowls from her foot to her head.  It looked so effortless and easy, but I’m sure it took years of practicing all of the combined movements and tricks.

Here are some favorites taken from behind the scenes.

The unicycles used for the Unicycles and Bowls Act.

It’s amazing to see what inside the tent looks like with the seats unoccupied.  There are a little over two thousand seats for the show.

The Crystal Ladies practicing what are materials which symbolizes minerals from the earth.

I also sat down with Totem’s wardrobe manager, Amanda Balius.  I mean, what kind tour would this have been without taking a look at one of the key essentials of the show, which is the wardrobe?

TSP: How long have you been with Cirque as Head of Wardrobe and what’s your favorite part about your job?

AB: I have been with Cirque for almost thirteen years and Head of Wardrobe six of those years.   I worked on Allegria, Dralion and Totem is my third show. My favorite part about the job is the problem solving.  There is always something interesting, whether it’s the case of the costume shop that cannot get the same fabric therefore, switching to new fabric, which may cause some wear and tear issues or fit issues to the wardrobe.  Or an artist wants to try a new trick, which requires a bit of adjusting to their costume so they can be as comfortable as possible with their performance.

TSP: How many designers does it take to create and design the wardrobe for each show.

AB: There’s a costume designer and make up designer.  The production team size vary depending on the show and the requirements of the show.  For instance a show based in Las Vegas will require a larger team due to the size of production.  A touring show tends to be a little smaller in the production team to enable the flexible move around / travel.  For Totem’s production in creation, there were about 20 people total, cutters & stitchers who worked one on one with the designer (Kym Barrett) and the designer’s assistant.

TSP: Is there a tailor or seamstress on board for each show in case of wardrobe malfunction.

AB: We all are!  Every show has a different requirement (staff wise) that tours.  Some shows have a permanent staff of four, however, for Totem, we have a staff of three – myself and two assistants.  In every city, we hire locals to help with day work (ironing, steaming & repairs), and two to help the artist dress at night and another to help with the laundry.  For my team, one of the assistants takes care of the makeup, wig and costumes. The other takes care of  the accessories, shoes and craft side of the wardrobe.  And I take care of the overall production and jump in where I am needed.

TSP: What is the key material used to help with the movement and acrobatics so the performer is comfortable.

AB: LYCRA! We use a lot of lycra.  I have been with the company long enough where I have seen new fabric that has come into the market.  Now there’s a fabric called Tactel which is a sport’s fabric and is meant to wick away moisture and dry fast.  In the past, we stuck with cotton based lycra or general lycra but now we are shifting towards tactel because it’s made for the performers and acrobats.  We also use a lot of net as well.

TSP: Which particular costume in Totem was the most challenging to construct and how long did it take?

AB: The most challenging would have been the Crystal Man.  He’s the first character that we see as the show starts.  His costume is made up of 4,001 mirrors and swarovski stones. It was more of a challenge to figure out how to attach the mirrors to the costume without having to stitch all 4,001 pieces. We needed to find a glue that would hold without falling off the costume and onto the stage or anyone else, and at the same time allowing movement so the costume isn’t too stiff.  There was a lot of research and development into finding the perfect glue to enable that when a mirror breaks we can take it off and that it’s not permanently stuck to the costume.

Of course, being the kind of girl who loves sparkly things, the Crystal Man and the Crystal Ladies were my favorite costumes of them all.  And seeing the performers in action and learning how their outfits are actually made, justified my appreciation for the pieces itself and the hard work the team puts in to creating such eye catching beauties.


On Friday, March 2nd, the show commenced in San Jose, CA with not an empty seat in sight. I knew the plot was about the evolution of man but wasn’t sure how each act was going to portray their story.  One of my favorite parts about the previous Cirque shows I have attended was how moving and captivating the music was.  And to my satisfaction, the music was just as intense for Totem.

The two and a half hour show consisted of various acts and performances, but the ones that really stood out the most to me were the unicyclists and bowls, the fixed trapeze duo, the roller skates and last but not least, the hoops dancer.  For some reason, I couldn’t take my eyes off him and the way he was dancing really brought his native spirit onto the stage.

The Hoops Dancer – photo credit: Daniel Desmarais

The Fixed Trapeze Duo – photo credit: Daniel Desmarais

The Crystal Ladies – photo credit: Daniel Desmarais

The Crystal Man – photo credit: Daniel Desmarais

Off stage, the guests were treated with complimentary popcorn and soda at the concession stands and I even snapped a photo with someone that looked like a Cirque character.   Overall, I enjoyed every moment of the show.  Each performance and act had their own talent and I’m sure everyone left with their very own favorites as well.   Totem added an additional day to their run, ending now on April 15, 2012.  Having the enjoyed the show so much, I’m thinking I may see it again before it leaves the Taylor Street Bridge.

Fore more information on purchasing tickets for Totem, please visit their website at www.cirquedusoleil.com

Side note:  I did notice there were many children under the age of 10 that attended the show and one of them sitting in front of us.  I know some parents may think this is a fun show to take kids to, but the little girl in front of us kept saying “get me out of here”.  With that being said, you may reconsider taking your children 5 and under to the show.  I’m a parent of two and thought about taking my four year old to the show, but scratched that thought when I realized my son may try one of the acts.





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