EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Exclusive Interview #26

  • Writer and Director of Cirque Du Soleil's TOTEM
  • Robert Lepage

In February 2016, Cirque du Soleil returns to Japan with its spectacular big top production entitled TOTEM! Born in Quebec in 1957, Lepage is a renowned playwright, actor and director of theatre, opera, circus and film. In 1985, he created Dragons' Trilogy and immediately received international recognition. His work has earned him worldwide critical acclaim and many awards, among them Governor General's Performing Arts Award in 2009. TOTEM is Lepage's second Cirque du Soleil show following KÀ (2004). Since its world premiere in 2010, the touring show has continued to dazzle audience with its innovative circus. Read on to find out what he had to say about this thrilling production and what you can expect!

Q

Can you explain about the concept and the theme of Totem?

A

In fact, Cirque du Soleil is a circus without any animals. Having worked with Cirque du Soleil before and other circus companies, I could notice how within a body of an artist, there are animals that you could actually recreate all of the history of evolution with the body of a performer. For me, Totem was an exploration in the world of different species and history of evolution. When we are in the womb of our mother, we are in the state that is very much like a fish. Then when we are born, the way we move is like a reptile. Then eventually we start to move like a mammal, and eventually we start to stand up like an ape, we climb everywhere and eventually we are human. So that was pretty much my point of intrigue to do this piece.

Q

For Totem, there are different themes that link to each act. How did you think of these themes and decide the running order of the acts?

A

Totem has different themes that link to each act. How we came up with these themes was that, for example, we would be looking for certain disciplines, and there were people who were working with the rings. Rings are something that people do on beaches. And the beach is a place for amphibians. It's a place for animals who live both on water and land. For me it was important to create a scene that was about amphibians, and we are amphibians when we go to the beach, basically. So that's the kind of connection that I was trying to do. As for the link between the disciplines and the theme, at times we had a discipline that was imposed, and we have to find the "animal quality" within that discipline. Sometimes it was the other way around. The running order of the acts is always a question of trial and error. It's pretty much dictated by how the energy or how the audience feels.

Q

How did you think of the image of Totem's stage? Also, what does it mean to integrate technology into a circus or play?

A

I was very interested to work with projection, and have projection create a different environment for all of the different animals or creatures that we were going to do. There's an old principal that goes back to the Greek theater. When you bring in a character, he has to come from another world. If he comes from another world, he can't just walk in. There has to be a bridge that brings him from the other world. Also, bridge has been designed in a very "evolution" style. When it is erect, it is a totem. Circus evolves from of course the amazing sense of design of the coaches and choreographers, but it also evolves from different tools and acrobatic equipments. The more you play around with this equipment and introduce new elements and introduce technology to that, you make the arts of the circus evolve.

Q

What is your impression of Japan and Japanese audience? Was there any inspiration that came from Japan or Japanese culture?

A

I'm extremely influenced by Japanese culture, not just by traditional Japanese culture but also by contemporary modern culture. That's why I'm excited to see Totem go to Japan because I think people will connect to the show maybe in a more easy way, because it is "Japanese" in spirits. I'm also great fan of kabuki. The crossing of the bridge, the hanamichi, was inspiration for the bridge having the characters appear. In general, the theatricality, the way to create characters, I was very inspired.

Photo: OSA Images Costumes: Kym Barrett © 2010 Cirque du Soleil