Cirque du Soleil characters invade Balboa Park to promote fairgrounds show

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By Marsha Sutton

Four Cirque du Soleil actors surprised and enchanted wide-eyed visitors at Balboa Park’s Natural History Museum last week to promote their newest touring show, TOTEM, which arrives in San Diego April 25 for a limited engagement at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Dressed in full makeup and costumed as a frog, monkey, caveman and human tracker, the actors leaped, staggered, posed and pranced around the museum display depicting early evolution, with characteristic Cirque du Soleil dazzle and grace.

The performers charmed their impromptu audience with unrehearsed spontaneity, giving mesmerized children and delighted adults an up-close view of the elaborate costume designs and makeup creations for which Cirque du Soleil is famous.

Accompanying the actors were the show’s artistic director Tim Smith and head of wardrobe Amanda Balius who said the tracker’s makeup takes about 90 minutes to apply.

Costumes, she said, are inspired by both the storyline and nature itself. The frog’s Lycra body suit, for example, matches the colors of real frogs, with an added shine to provide the wet reptilian look, she said.

One of the main characters, the Crystal Man, wears an eight-pound leotard with 4,001 mirrors glued in place. This, Balius said, was probably the most challenging costume and is checked carefully each day to ensure the mirrors are in good condition.

The costumes, Balius said, must be made to give the artists maximum flexibility to move freely in acts that often involve highly skilled acrobatic maneuvers, without sacrificing the integrity of the costume design.

The storyline for TOTEM traces the evolution of humankind from its original amphibian state to scientific heights. TOTEM is inspired by many cultures’ founding myths and illustrates through its 11 separate acts the evolutionary progress of the species.

Artistic director Tim Smith said the show evolves with each performance and presents challenges that require actors and support staff to prepare for any occurrence.

“There’s a chance for anything to happen,” said Smith.

TOTEM features 52 acrobats, musicians, singers and actors from 20 different countries.

The artists in character appearing at the Natural History Museum last week were Yann Arnaud (caveman) from France, Joe Putignano (monkey) from the United States, Ante Ursic (tracker) from Germany and Caoliang Wang (frog) from China.

Headquartered in Montreal, Cirque du Soleil began in 1984 with 20 street performers and now has 21 different shows around the world and 5,000 employees, including more than 1,300 artists from 50 countries. Tickets for TOTEM are $53.50-$110.50 for adults and $40-$80.50 for children at

cirquedusoleil.com/totem

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