Cirque du Soleil’s evolution-themed TOTEM arrives in Santa Monica, bringing with it a companion exhibit at Santa Monica Pier Aquarium

By Michael Aushenker

Crystal people inhabit the world of Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM, which opens Friday in Santa Monica

Crystal people inhabit the world of Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM, which opens Friday in Santa Monica












Last Thursday afternoon, a massive blue and yellow tent began to go up next to Santa Monica Pier. The eight-day build effort for the set of Cirque du Soleil’s latest show —TOTEM, which opens Friday night — would require bringing in 65 trailers with some 1,200 tons of equipment, Cirque du Soleil General Manager Jeff Lund said.

“TOTEM” is the latest in a series of Cirque du Soleil traveling shows to set up next to the pier, from the then-fledgling troupe’s 1987 “We Reinvent the Circus” to 2012’s insect-themed “Ovo.”

What sets TOTEM apart from previous shows is its theme of evolution, aiming to “trace the fascinating journey of the human species from its original amphibian state to its ultimate desire to fly,” according to a statement by Cirque du Soleil. “The characters evolve on a stage evoking a giant turtle, the symbol of origin for many ancient civilizations.”

The troupe is also pioneering extensive use of video projection to amplify the possibilities within the tent’s interior.

“The way that it’s presented is totally fresh and new,” Cirque du Soleil spokesperson Francis Jalbert said. “We’re taking you to a totally different universe.”

Outside the tent, Cirque du Soleil has partnered with Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium for a new watershed exhibit at its remodeled Dorothy Green room, which debuted to VIPs on Tuesday with fanfare that included an appearance by amphibious-costumed TOTEM acrobats.

Cirque du Soleil is sponsoring free admission to the aquarium from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday (the public grand opening) and from 12:30 to 5 p.m. each Friday in February. Cirque will also sponsor five field trips to the Aquarium for children from low-income communities, said aquarium publicist Jacqueline McClean-Jones.

Cirque du Soleil is also paying the city more than $1 million to rent the space through in March, according to a Santa Monica City Council agenda report. The funds will go toward helping maintain beachfront areas.

TOTEM, which premiered in 2010 and last year won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Unique Theatrical Experience, is Cirque du Soleil’s 24th show. With 5,000 employees, including 1,300 artists hailing from more than 50 countries, the Quebec-based enterprise has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1984, when it featured just 20 street performers.

Cirque du Soleil performer Guilhem Cauchois, a native of Paris, has toured with TOTEM in New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami and Ottawa over the past year and a half.

That said, the rush of performing remains the same.

“Every show is a new audience. They react differently. We’re always doing our best on stage,” said Cauchois, who partners with Montreal’s Sarah Tessier on the trapeze.„

“I have performed in circuses since I was seven, and there are performers doing things [in TOTEM] that I have never seen before,” he said.

Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM opens Friday night and runs through March 16 on the parking lot north of Santa Monica Pier. Shows happen at 1 and 4:30 p.m. Sundays, 4:30 and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Tickets are $50 to $150. For more information, visit

Santa Monica Pier Aquarium’s Cirque du Soleil-sponsored exhibit opens at 1 p.m. Saturday on the pier, with free admission that afternoon and on Friday afternoons in February. Visit for more information.