Cirque du Soleil’s evolutionary tale ‘Totem’ 

click to enlarge Incredible feats: A troupe performing on Russian bars is among the amazing acts in Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem.” (Courtesy photo) - INCREDIBLE FEATS: A TROUPE PERFORMING ON RUSSIAN BARS IS AMONG THE AMAZING ACTS IN CIRQUE DU SOLEIL’S “TOTEM.” (COURTESY PHOTO)
  • Incredible feats: A troupe performing on Russian bars is among the amazing acts in Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem.” (Courtesy photo)
  • Incredible feats: A troupe performing on Russian bars is among the amazing acts in Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem.” (Courtesy photo)

Cirque du Soleil returns to The City with a bang — literally, a big one.

In “Totem,” opening Friday in Grand Chapiteau near AT&T Park, Cirque’s creative titans capture the theme of evolution, and also offer a stunning, vivid reminder that as a species, we can’t seem to escape our interconnectedness.

There hasn’t been a Cirque show quite like this.

“It really is a walk through the journey of the evolution of man, starting from this primordial soup,” says Melanie Lalande, artistic director for “Totem.” “We have a Crystal Man who acts as a big bang that sparks everything to life. And everything grows on its journey from there. We’ve also incorporated projections, so it’s as if you’re watching a live movie behind the performers. It’s a very different feel from other shows.”

It’s also one of Cirque’s more adventurous outings. Written and directed by Robert Lepage, the brainchild behind the fiery “Ka” in Las Vegas, “Totem” delivers more than 10 acts, each awe-inspiring — from Amerindian hoop dancers and a fixed trapeze duo to a spectacle on the Russian bars and elegant ladies on tall unicycles tossing and balancing bowls on their heads.

Umi Miya, once a Bay Area resident, plays a pivotal role as a frog in a robust new act. Throughout “Totem,” other characters, like the Darwin-esque scientist who explores different worlds within the show — a monkey tags along — illuminate deeper concepts.

In the meantime, there’s plenty of eye candy. Set designer Carl Fillion gives the show an impressive visual environment representing an organic world. There’s a marsh lined with reeds near an island (the stage), where images are projected.

Tilted slightly forward, this “image marsh” is both an entrance and projection surface. At any given point, moving images transform it into a virtual swamp, river, lake, ocean, volcanic island or even a star-cluttered sky.

While the design incorporates ancient and modern-world elements, the carefully selected and trained athletes perform nuanced, spellbinding feats.

“Cirque is often about how we can perceive things differently,” says Yves Sheriff, senior artistic talent scout (for clowns). “But Cirque is also about taking something that is simple or popular and being able to ponder it. I think the public likes that.”

Lepage, describing the show’s essence, says, “The word totem suggests that human beings carry in their bodies the full potential of all living species, even the thunderbird’s desire to fly to the top of the totem.”

IF YOU GO

Totem

Presented by Cirque du Soleil

Where: Big Top, AT&T Park, Parking Lot A, 74 Mission Rock St., S.F.

When: Opens Friday, 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesday, 4 and 8 p.m. most Thursdays-Saturdays, 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Dec. 11

Tickets: $55 to $360

Contact: www.cirquedusoleil.com/totem

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Greg Archer

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