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The Courier Post Reports: Cirque du Soleil's Totem prepares to dazzle in Camden

 

“Totem,’’ the show premiering on the Camden Waterfront on May 30, is more about emotion and spectacle than a straightforward story, though there’s that, too.
 
Think of “Totem’’ as evoking the theme of evolution and human potential, not a linear storyline, and prepare to be entertained.
 
As one reviewer wrote of the show in the New York Times:
 
“What’s the next level after impressed? Amazed? Awe-struck? Whatever it is, that emotion arrives often in ‘Totem,’ the newest show from Cirque du Soleil.”
 
So what’s the show about?
 
“ ‘Totem’ is evocative of evolution, with acrobats, a journey of creation, of the making of an amphibian to a man,” said Francis Jalbert, a spokesman for Cirque who earlier this month was touring the waterfront where the traveling tent show is making its 18th stop since premiering in 2010.
 
Add a set that is based on a watery environment and a staging area forming the outline of a giant turtle, projected images meant to shift location and time, a juggler playing a scientist stirring LED balls inside an over-sized beaker meant to represent atoms, music, lighting, a nod to Native American culture, and costumed acrobats who mix a bit of dance, acting and clowning.
 
Oh, and 7-foot-tall unicycles, mounted by a troupe of Chinese unicyclists balancing baskets on their heads.
 
The show was created by Robert Lepage, a well-known Canadian playwright, actor, film director and stage director, which helps explain the fanciful mix of ingredients he puts on stage.
 
As Jalbert puts it: “You’re taken on a journey. And it is under a big top, which means an audience is in the round. Artistsare all around the audience. Expect to be blown away and taken to it. Uplifted!”
 
Leading the journey is Greg Kennedy, who grew up in northwest New Jersey and graduated from Drexel University — with an engineering degree.
 
When he isn’t touring with “Totem,’’ accompanied by his wife and three children, the 42-year-old is a resident of the Germantown section of Philadelphia.
 
So what’s a guy with a degree in civil engineering doing in Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem”?
Juggling, more or less.
 
Not traditional juggling, but innovative manipulation using his unique engineering background and apparatus he designs himself to use with his act.
 
His skills have twice earned him the title of top juggler.
 
Kennedy quit his engineering job in 1997 and started juggling full time. He and his wife also created a circus school in Germantown.
 
A YouTube video of his act was seen by the show’s director five years ago. Kennedy went to Montreal and demonstrated his techniques in person.
 
He was soon written into “Totem’’ as the Scientist, the show’s central character.
 
“My skills and his genius,” he said of Lepage’s incorporation of his act into the show.
 
“The show’s budget is part of it, but the biggest part is the artistic creation” that Cirque and Lepage are known for, said Kennedy. “It’s fun to be part of it.”
 
As the Scientist, he serves as a witness to evolution, an entry-point for the audience to experience the show’s elements.
 
He started with Cirque a year before “Totem’’ debuted.
 
His children, now 6, 8 and 10, attend a portable school that is set up in every tour-stop city adjacent to the big top.
 
Not only are his children learning French, the native language of Cirque’s creators, their math and physics classes are taught in French.
 
And while Kennedy loves the cosmopolitan blend of backgrounds represented by Cirque, he’s looking forward to being back in the region he calls home.
 
In fact, he’s previously taken his family to the ballpark and the aquarium that sit on the waterfront where “Totem’’ will play.
 
“I hope it gets people from across the river and all over South Jersey” to the Camden Waterfront, said Kennedy.
 
Joe Myers, the Cooper’s Ferry executive who pitched Camden to Cirque — and beat three locations in Philadelphia — agrees.
 
“Private investment in the city for a special event shows the city has capability and shows the waterfront and the city of Camden are more of a regional attraction, tied together and packaged,” said Myers.“Totem,’’ the show premiering on the Camden Waterfront on May 30, is more about emotion and spectacle than a straightforward story, though there’s that, too.
 
Think of “Totem’’ as evoking the theme of evolution and human potential, not a linear storyline, and prepare to be entertained.
 
As one reviewer wrote of the show in the New York Times:
 
“What’s the next level after impressed? Amazed? Awe-struck? Whatever it is, that emotion arrives often in ‘Totem,’ the newest show from Cirque du Soleil.”
 
So what’s the show about?
 
“ ‘Totem’ is evocative of evolution, with acrobats, a journey of creation, of the making of an amphibian to a man,” said Francis Jalbert, a spokesman for Cirque who earlier this month was touring the waterfront where the traveling tent show is making its 18th stop since premiering in 2010.
 
Add a set that is based on a watery environment and a staging area forming the outline of a giant turtle, projected images meant to shift location and time, a juggler playing a scientist stirring LED balls inside an over-sized beaker meant to represent atoms, music, lighting, a nod to Native American culture, and costumed acrobats who mix a bit of dance, acting and clowning.
 
Oh, and 7-foot-tall unicycles, mounted by a troupe of Chinese unicyclists balancing baskets on their heads.
 
The show was created by Robert Lepage, a well-known Canadian playwright, actor, film director and stage director, which helps explain the fanciful mix of ingredients he puts on stage.
 
As Jalbert puts it: “You’re taken on a journey. And it is under a big top, which means an audience is in the round. Artistsare all around the audience. Expect to be blown away and taken to it. Uplifted!”
 
Leading the journey is Greg Kennedy, who grew up in northwest New Jersey and graduated from Drexel University — with an engineering degree.
 
When he isn’t touring with “Totem,’’ accompanied by his wife and three children, the 42-year-old is a resident of the Germantown section of Philadelphia.
 
So what’s a guy with a degree in civil engineering doing in Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem”?
Juggling, more or less.
 
Not traditional juggling, but innovative manipulation using his unique engineering background and apparatus he designs himself to use with his act.
 
His skills have twice earned him the title of top juggler.
 
Kennedy quit his engineering job in 1997 and started juggling full time. He and his wife also created a circus school in Germantown.
 
A YouTube video of his act was seen by the show’s director five years ago. Kennedy went to Montreal and demonstrated his techniques in person.
 
He was soon written into “Totem’’ as the Scientist, the show’s central character.
 
“My skills and his genius,” he said of Lepage’s incorporation of his act into the show.
 
“The show’s budget is part of it, but the biggest part is the artistic creation” that Cirque and Lepage are known for, said Kennedy. “It’s fun to be part of it.”
 
As the Scientist, he serves as a witness to evolution, an entry-point for the audience to experience the show’s elements.
 
He started with Cirque a year before “Totem’’ debuted.
 
His children, now 6, 8 and 10, attend a portable school that is set up in every tour-stop city adjacent to the big top.
 
Not only are his children learning French, the native language of Cirque’s creators, their math and physics classes are taught in French.
 
And while Kennedy loves the cosmopolitan blend of backgrounds represented by Cirque, he’s looking forward to being back in the region he calls home.
 
In fact, he’s previously taken his family to the ballpark and the aquarium that sit on the waterfront where “Totem’’ will play.
 
“I hope it gets people from across the river and all over South Jersey” to the Camden Waterfront, said Kennedy.
 
Joe Myers, the Cooper’s Ferry executive who pitched Camden to Cirque — and beat three locations in Philadelphia — agrees.
 
“Private investment in the city for a special event shows the city has capability and shows the waterfront and the city of Camden are more of a regional attraction, tied together and packaged,” said Myers.
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