Cirque du Soleil tells man’s tale

This year’s acrobatic, psychedelic circus performance, named TOTEM, tells the multicultural story of humankind and will take place at the Port of Los Angeles.

Cirque du Soleil tells man’s tale

Shilah Montiel | Daily 49er

Eric Hernandez, a professional dancer of the traditional Native American hoop dance, will be one of the performers for TOTEM.

Reality will seem to be suspended as Cirque du Soleil brings TOTEM to the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Calif. on Oct. 11.
The big top has been raised in the Port of Los Angeles. Darkness will surround those who step inside, blotting out the industrial characteristics of the port. A marshy island surrounded by reeds and filled with lily pads will replace the steel crates and cargo ships.
TOTEM is the story of the human species and its journey from an amphibian state to a modern species with the desire to fly, according to the TOTEM brochure.
The production is inspired by a mix of origin myths, from Native American to Chinese and Russian, according to the brochure. For example, the stage, which shifts and evolves throughout the show, takes on the form of a giant turtle. This represents a belief in Hindu, Chinese and Native American cultures, where it was believed that the world rests on the back of a giant turtle.
According to the Cirque du Soleil website, “somewhere between science and legend TOTEM explores the ties that bind man to other species, his dreams and his infinite potential.”
TOTEM illustrates the evolutionary progress of species through a visually vibrant and acrobatic language. The show brings 46 artists to the stage in 11 different performances, each bringing life to their niche in the evolution of the story.
Beware that the cast members will pull you out of your seat to become a volunteer. The performers won’t put you on the spot, but do be prepared for a little audience interaction.
Company Manager of TOTEM Jeff Lund said not to fear the cast members who often go into the audience to interact with guests.
“[It’s] for animation and [the characters] will play with people, but in this show no one gets pulled up on stage,” Lund said.
Eric Hernandez, a Native American hoop dancer is one of the performers in TOTEM.
Growing up in Pasadena, Calif., Hernandez said he became interested in the culture of his ancestors who belong to the Native American Lumbee tribe when he was 10 years old. He said he found a particular interest and talent for the discipline of the traditional Native American hoop dance.
The hoop dance is performed with the manipulation of numerous rings, each of them about an arms length in diameter. The rings are spun around the limbs and are held together as chains and various formations. The dance performed in TOTEM begins with a single ring skillfully plucked from the floor.
From the genesis of the one ring, more rings are added to the fray. It’s symbolic to the story’s shaping and shifting journey of the human being. The hoop dance is a living, writhing, shape-shifting creature in itself.
Hernandez said that the dance demands lots of cardio and focus.
“If I make a mistake, [I am] able to have my cardio hide my mistake by artistically getting back into the technical things,” Hernandez said.
One moment, the rings are simple and spun about the limbs. In the next, the hoop has multiplied, taking the form of serpentine figures and bird’s wings that transform the dancer into a bird of prey.
The dance is traditionally performed at wedding ceremonies. Within TOTEM, however, the dance complements the evolving and shifting aspect of the production.
“The dance tells a story,” Hernandez said. “You probably saw the eagle with three hoops, and as I add more hoops, the eagle grows. There are also plants; the dance is supposed to tell the story of what plants and animals the natives saw and you see in the end how they all come together to form the world.”
As the dancer conjures images of plants and animals throughout the dance, the rings come to intertwine with one another to form a ball representing the world, where Hernandez holds up in his palm as the sound of drums and tribal singing comes to an end.
The program outlines many other acts help tell the story of TOTEM, including parallel bar coreography and the “devil’s sticks” dance ramp up the energy of the show. Unique acts, such as a scientist’s toying with light and reality itself, are scheduled to take the stage.
Totem depicts many cultures, and Cirque du Soleil makes sure that the cultures represented in the show are well respected.
“It is very important to the creators of the show that we respect the native culture; that we don’t try to imitate it.” said TOTEM Spokesman Francis Jalbert.
Jalbert said it is very important that they find people from each respective culture to represent it; for example, actually having a person of Quebec sing in one of the Aboriginal languages.

For more information about the show or to purchase tickets visit www.cirquedusoleil.com.

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