Cirque du Soleil erect Totem on the Swan


In 1984, Cirque du Soleil was a small troupe of 20 people performing on the streets of Canada. Now known across the globe for high quality conceptual circus shows, Cirque have entertained over 100 million individuals across 300 cities.

Pitching their big top, the Grand Chapiteau at Belmont Racecourse right upon the Swan River.

Artistic Director Neelanthi Vadivel and performer Eric Hernandez chatted to us about ‘Totem’, the 11th of the company’s shows to hit our shores.

“Totem’s theme is evolution,” Vadivel explains, “Human evolution, but not taken literally. It’s not chronological, it’s more about presenting different acrobatic acts in a setting that represents one specific period of human evolution or a combination of cultural elements that represent a different period of human evolution. It’s all piece-meal but it ties together in a broad evolutionary theme.”

Vadivel danced for Canadian dance companies Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal before being recruited by Cirque. Drawing on her passion and experience, she performed as a dancer for many years with Cirque before moving to direct the shows.

“As a performer you’re very much fixated on one role within that context and your main goal is really maintaining your body to portray that role accurately and keep your skill level high. As a director I’m looking at the overall picture. I’m looking at what each artists is bringing to the show and inspiring them to keep growing as artists as well. That will make the show grow and stay fresh and exciting.”

Cirque du Soleil shows are known for hiring talent from around the world, drawing on many cultures and disciplines for inspiration in performance. Vadivel performed for many years as Oceanne in ‘Dralion’, exploring her East-Indian heritage through dance, while Totem performer Eric Hernandez was recruited for his expertise with hoop dancing, a traditional Native American practice.

“We look at many different cultures and we all represent different areas of where we’ve been and what we’ve done.” Vadivel said, “What we really wanted to dive into were the first cultures of the world and tie in some of those elements, whether through dance like Eric or through a certain costume or musical influence. The first cultures are very close to nature.”

The costumes in ‘Totem’, as with all Cirque shows, are incredibly ornate and dazzling, much to the envy of drag queens, I’m sure. Eric Hernandez explained that it was adjustment from his usual comfortable training gear.

“I wear a headpiece and I’d never danced with anything that big on my head before, but you get used to it after a while,” said Hernandez, “A lot of us don’t train in our costumes, we’ll do a dress rehearsal before we start in a new city or sometimes we’ll do a technical rehearsal which helps us get back into the feel of our costumes. It’s a little restricting for me because I actually have to go through my hoops, so the bigger I am – the harder it gets.”

Cirque have a number of methods of recruitment, from audition tapes to talent scouts, though Eric admits he was found through YouTube after posting videos of his routines.

“My video was my audition. They saw that and it was enough for them. With a few referrals from other people, they trusted I was good enough. Every artists before they go on tour are sent to Montreal to get fitted for their costume, learn the makeup and train for the act,” Eric explained of the training process, “What I do on stage at ‘Totem’ is very different from what I was doing before. I use a lot more of the stage and I was used to dancing in one place at a time, kind of just spinning in a circle. You kind of turn into a Cirque du Soleil artist in Montreal and then you’re part of the show.”

Leigh Hill

Cirque du Soleil’s Totem will be in Perth from July 24th until September 27th in the Grand Chapiteau at Belmont Racecourse. Tickets and information available from

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