Cirque du Soleil brings primal energy to Santa Monica coast

As a soft breeze enveloped the Santa Monica Pier on Wednesday, crowds of visitors made their way towards a vast set of tents by the beach. They belonged to the visiting, world-renowned troupe, Circus du Soleil. The latest incarnation of what is without a doubt the world's most famous, gloriously inventive circus, is titled Totem and deals with the birth, evolution and diversity of Earth itself.

Inside awaited a colorful, almost surreal atmosphere as a clown stood before the arrivals showing off a gigantic daisy. A man in a deceptively formal suit walked in between the aisles as a rubber iguana emerged from his torso, playfully attempting to lick those sitting by the walk ways.

This was but a hint of the fun, immersive experience that Cirque du Soleil offers for those lucky enough to attend a show.

When the house lights dimmed, the audience was transported immediately into a primal setting as a group of dancers moved to a tribal beat within a giant turtle shell. Actors emerged dressed as frogs and other amphibians, moving with a grace and realism that could make a viewer forget for a moment that these are humans in costume.

What followed was a dazzling display of bold creativity that mixed the best of theater, athletics and dance. All these elements were combined in a fever dream vision of various world cultures and sounds. Native American dancers would emerge from flames projected onstage and perform an amazing array of hoop dancing resulting in elegant shapes.

There were wonderful, almost cinematic moments. One of these involved a performance set to modern Indian pop. In this set piece, two Indian beach jocks compete for the attention of a beautiful woman dressed in 50s beach attire in technicolor red. Their competing egos were expressed through aerial hoop acrobatics that left audience members gasping.

Another memorable set piece in the same style involved intense flamenco music while the show's featured Clown playfully acted as a bull to a red-clad romeo's cape. The Spanish gentleman then hands a rose to a Spanish lady and both walk off stage towards a sunset so lush and red it felt absolutely real.

This was such a rich show in content that the eyes had a hard time drinking in everything onstage. Consider one great act where a scientist stands inside a giant flask as his assistants toss glowing orbs inside which spin around, changing colors multiple times. Meanwhile walking around the flask is an attractive assistant using a set of test tubes to play music in the style of an Andean flute. Near her an actor in an ape costume mocks another scientist while crouching on the floor.

The beauty of Totem is that it does absolute justice to its title. It is a series of layers displaying the diversity of our species in all its forms through comedy, romance, action and heroism.

One hilarious moment involved a group of neanderthals who surround a modern man in a business suit and tie. The clash of our ancestors with the modern world begins as the neanderthals tear at his clothes until he's left in his briefs, grabbing a flint-tipped spear to try and escape from the mocking cavemen. These neanderthals would enthrall the audience with hilarious antics throughout the show.

Performers in Polynesian wear would also ride tall unicycles and toss silver wear at each other in perfect precision, catching each bowl on their heads.

There was always great humor as well.

One character, an Italian casanova, would promise the audience "the best sun tan ever" and the Clown with the daisy appeared on a small boat onstage, attempting to fish but then delighting the audience with a great act involving a bunch of pans and a ping pong ball he managed to bounce in precise musical rhythm.

Totem is simply wonderful to watch as it unfolds. The stage is designed as a giant pool. The entire set inside the tent is designed to make the audience feel as if it is in an outdoor, natural space. Mosquitos, crickets and breezes could be heard with unique realism. Images are projected which can transform it into a river, then lava flows emerge and it's levels can rise to reveal performers popping out from below. A vast sea of stars enveloped the audience at one point, creating a mesmerizing effect.

Totem is special because like many of Cirque du Soleil's best shows it focuses on a precise idea and brings it to life with a special sense of storytelling. The acrobatics and antics deal with who we are as people from different cultures. Everything from the indigenous to the stereotyped European playboy is explored with much gusto.

Cirque du Soleil will be performing Totem at the Santa Monica Pier through March 16.