Cirque du Soleil: Totem is one mindblowingly awesome night of inspiration and human evolution

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

I made a beginner's mistake heading into Cirque du Soleil last night in underestimating how circus-like it'd be. I had always assumed it was largely gymnastics-based, which it is, but minus the animals, last night's Cirque du Soleil: Totem show was, well, pretty much a circus, with some sleight-of-hand thrown in. And I loved it.

Although I had to duck out early due to unforeseen personal issues, here are five brief thoughts on last night's opening night performance.

1.) First thing I noticed: The event's big top-setting certainly enhanced the circus-like feel, but it also struck in me a chord of giddiness, not unlike what I would have felt if I were a kid attending my first big-time circus. Weirdly (or maybe not, Totem didn't start till 8, and it was a school night), very few kids were around. But there was plenty of booze to be found. I opted out (too expensive and who needs mind-altering substances when this craziness is unfolding before you).

2.) Adding to the giddiness: Last night's Cirque du Soleil: Totem premiere felt like an "Event." Maybe it was a result of this being the first of many runs of Totem in Columbus, but a buzz was felt among the crowd mingling in the lobby areas. The Event status was enhanced when I found my seat and noticed around me my boss, Brian Lindamood; Jane Hawes, Columbus Parent editor; Chelsea Castle, UWeekly and Fit Columbus editor; Jacob Taylor of Civitas Now; and Robert Grimmett, one of Alive's 2013 People to Watch. When I checked Instagram later, I saw pictures from Blake Compton, former Hudson Street Hooligan leader and president of Compton Construction, and Christina Christian, marketing director for here in Columbus, among many others. Sorry for the name drops, but it just struck me at the time. Of course, as the cliche goes, Columbus is a big small city, so maybe it was just that ...

3.) I gave up trying to follow Totem's evolution narrative early on. Again, maybe my own ignorance, but when the show segued from what a scene depicting, from what I could gather, Earth's origins to surfer dudes, I lost whatever narrative thread I was grasping onto. It was jarring at first, as if I somehow had ingested hallucinogens unbeknownst to me, but I quickly recovered when the beach bums jumped on the rings and proceeded to, well, blow my mind after also eliciting a few guffaws from me.

4.) Speaking of guffaws, Totem was funnier than I expected. Some of the laughs were cheap, but the audience ate it up. I had a hard time containing my cynicism, too. I also struggled to not look like a grinning fool for much of the opening acts. If there was a theme of evolution on display, I found it, not in the storyline, but in the amazing feats of physicality from Totem's performers. How in Sam's hell are humans capable of this badass awesomeness? At times I couldn't tell if the performers' six-pack abs were airbrushed on or they were wearing bodysuits, but that was a minor distraction. I also found my jealousy racheting up exponentially, often wondering what it must be like to be a sculpted machine redolent of Greek gods, and what that must mean for your daily life. If I somehow attained such a fine physical specimen as a body for my own daily use, how would my life be enhanced? Would I swing from trees to light poles to electric wires to get around, discontent with merely walking on a dirt-crusted ground? Would I dance everywhere? Would I simply pick heavy stuff up at random and spin it around and maybe even juggle it, in awe at my own strength and radness? Would I constantly balance stuff on my head? The possibilities were endless in my mind last night. I rather liked the inspiration, much more than my cynical mind would have imagined.

5.) Still, I'm not completely convinced all was authentic. Magic, er sleight-of-hand, must have been at work. How else to explain a woman balancing upside down in the foot of another woman while both spin rugs on every available extremity? What about small-ish women riding tall bike unicycles, often pedaling with one foot, while flipping metal bowls in the air and catching them on their heads? Surely there were magnets or homing devices or wires we couldn't see. Right? Sure, there were mishaps, but maybe that's just what Cirque wants us to think. Maybe the dropped bowls weren't mishaps, but instead "mishaps," if you catch my drift. In the end, though, sleight-of-hand or not (probably not), the crowd didn't care and neither did I. Mistakes were made, but few. When they were, no one cared. The crowd cheered harder the next time something unbelievable became suddenly believable, or at least within the realm of human possibility. And for a Thursday night, that was about as much fun as I could have imagined. Or maybe even a little more.