They say the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Add to that list the certainty that a Cirque du Soleil show will deliver superior entertainment on a grand scale. Witness Totem, the 2010 show now playing in Pittsburgh.
Totem is billed as a journey from the origins of man to when we take flight. As seen in a May 12 preview showing, the show touched on much of that while also delving into man's complex relationship with the environment.
Unlike Cirque shows from the mid-1990s, such as Alegria, which emphasized grand theatricality along with astonishing circus acts, Totem favors the latter. From amphibian creatures swinging on the skeleton of a mammoth turtle shell to Russian businessmen scaling 33-foot poles to perform daring acrobatics, Totem is jam-packed with edge-of-your-seat entertainment performed by an international cast.
The action took place on an elaborate transformable stage created by designer Carl Fillion. The theme was enhanced by projections of nature scenes onto the set and the lush music of composers Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard.
The many engaging acts included Nakotah Raymond Larance as a Native American, dancing and manipulating small hoops into shapes evoking animals. A thrilling trampoline/tightrope act employing flexible poles also stood out.
In the sequence titled "Antipodism (Crystal Ladies)," twin sisters Marina and Svetlana Tsodikova, from Belarus, wowed the audience with an impossible-looking routine of acrobatic foot-juggling that closed with one sister held aloft and upside-down by the other by one foot, while both spun glittering squares with their free hands and feet.
Canadians Rosalie Ducharme and Louis-David Simoneau were thrilling as young lovebirds flirting while hanging from a single fixed trapeze bar suspended above the stage. The pair rifled through a series of death-defying lifts and position changes.
Perched atop a tiny platform shaped like a drum, a rapidly spinning Massimiliano Medini (Italy) whirled Spain's Denise Garcia-Sorta (both on roller skates) through a series of amazing lifts and turns. Also of note were the antics of clowns Pippo Crotti (Italy) as a buffoonish tourist and Mikhail Usov (Ukraine) as a hapless fisherman.
Totem's few drawbacks included uncomfortably cramped seating and the underdevelopment of a few of its main characters, like "The Tracker" and the "Crystal Man."
Cirque du Soleil performs TOTEM through June 5. Under the Grand Chapiteau, 20th and Allegheny Valley Railroad, Strip District. $28.50-250. 800-450-1480 or www.cirquedusoleil.com/totem