No seditious assaults on national governments, no sequesters, and no goddamn bickering over differences of race, creed (read: evolution), income, and sexual preference. Instead, a celebration of all creation myths, a creative respect for the planet, and a healthy dose of spectacle. In short, a circus, not a tea party. If you could amend the Nobel Prize charter to consolidate all the individual awards into one, Cirque du Soleil's "Totem," written and directed by Robert Lepage, at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro would be the first, if not only, recipient.
Like something out of Dr. Seuss, the production begins with a turtle. In many ancient cultures, a turtle serves as the foundation for a creation myth. A spark of life from a Crystal Man who drops from the sky, the turtle's shell vanishes, and acrobatic frogs work their centrifugal magic on the parallel bars of the turtle's carapace. From then on, it's a flat-out spectacle that describes the evolution from beast to man, from swimming to walking to flight. There's the magnificent and iconic living tableau of the ascent of man, beginning with a hunched over simian and ending with a dude in a suit talking on a cell phone. There are the foot juggling Crystal Ladies, whose costumes reference earth's mineral beauty, the Hand Balancing guy whose seemingly impossible Pilates feats suggest the physical and mental struggle of adaptation to evolving environments, and the Hoops Dancers, Amerindian natives enacting the endless circle of life.
Popcorn-stealing, usher-from-hell Clowns wreck havoc in the crowd before the show. Four characters -- the Tracker, the Scientist, the Amerindian Dancer, and the aforementioned Crystal Man -- guide us through the phantasmagoria of creation. Time passes: there are allusions to the seasons, including a hilarious Bollywood-inspired beach scene (Summer), as well as unicyclists (on seven foot high cycles) whose costumes are made from seed pods, flowers, trees, and leaves (Fall), and two roller skaters in white and silver (Winter).
There are no evolutionary missteps or dead ends here. Evolution is a miracle of nature and Kym Barrett's costumes are a miracle of couture. They embrace "documentary-based reality" and their textures, colors, and markings are based on traditional cultural and tribal designs as well as on animals, plants, and birds. Each costume showcases the human body, which correlates to how we emerged from the same chemical bouillabaisse as our evolutionary forefathers and foremothers. Talk about detail: the Crystal Man's costume has 4,500 reflective mirrors and crystals; each Foot Juggler's costume has 3,500 crystals, each headdress has 1,000 more. Showing a seamless and judicious conflation of technology and the natural world, Carl Fillion's set design features images -- a river source, a lake, an ocean, a volcanic island, a pond, and a starry sky -- projected onto a tilted platform that cleverly serves as both a swamp and a stage entrance.
"Totem" is an organic production, taut and extravagant. It offers the slow motion unveiling of things you'd see in a dream, a Technicolor dream of where we come from, of how we're connected to everyone as well as everything else. And if a turtle is a totem for the origin of ancient world cultures, so too is a turtle's leisurely pace a perfect description for evolutionary change as well as the perfect means by which to watch the slow: attentive, attuned, and assured of getting where you're going while catching all the attractions along the way.
Performances are 8 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday, 4:30, Friday-Sunday, 1 p.m., Sunday. The show runs until November 10. Tickets are $60-$150. The Grand Chapiteau is located at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Berth 46, Miner Street, Los Angeles, CA 90731.