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Life Under the Big Top with Cirque du Soleil

A hoops dancer enthralls in Cirque du Soleil's Totem (photo by Daniel Desmarias)

AUGUST 11 TO OCTOBER 9 Never known to shy away from a challenge, Cirque du Soleil makes magic out of a most ambitious subject, the evolution of life on earth, in its latest touring production. This month, Totem comes alive under the Grand Chapiteau with more than 50 cast members from around the world. Colourfully adorned hoop dancers, unicyclists, acrobats and more take the stage in this magically evocative display.

Unfolding like an epic creation myth, Totem begins with prehistory, envisioning the original amphibian state from which many animals grew, and progresses through a variety of acrobatic feats to ultimately reflect the evolution of human aspiration. Much of the action takes place on a stylized turtle shell representing Mother Earth, a common theme of many origin stories. Other memorable characters include a grey-haired clown reminiscent of Charles Darwin, as well as the Crystal Man—signifying the “life force”—who drops from the sky in a ball of energy, his costume glittering with tiny mirrors and crystals.

Totem is the second collaboration between Cirque du Soleil and master theatre director Robert Lepage. Its April 2010 world premiere thrilled audiences in Montreal, and since then it has played in Quebec City, Amsterdam and London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall. No doubt the production will have Toronto audiences clamouring for more—a desire that can be fulfilled when the troupe returns in October to present a show based on the music of Michael Jackson. The Grand Chapiteau at the Port Lands, Tuesday to Thursday 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4 and 8 p.m., Sunday 1 and 5 p.m., adults $73.50 to $248.50, children (aged 2 to 12) $54 to $208; call 1-800-450-1480 or visit here to purchase tickets.

Weekend Roundup, May 20th to 22nd

Friday: Gluck's Orfeo is enthralling (photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago)

Friday, May 20
Follow the critics’ raves to the Four Seasons Centre, where the Canadian Opera Company stages the heart-wrenching Orfeo ed Euridice. Compsed by Christoph Willibald Gluck, this opera tells of Orfeo who, after losing his beloved Euridice, literally goes to hell and back to find her.

Take a scenic drive west of Toronto to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, where two new plays begin previews. Shakespeare’s classic Richard III tells the dark story of a man trying to seize the English throne by dispatching all those who stand in his way. For something a little lighter, the Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar brings the story of Judas Iscariot to life through rock opera.

Running to May 29, Inside Out, the 21st annual Toronto LGBT Film and Video Festival, screens throughout the city. Tonight at 9:30 p.m. (at the TIFF Bell Lightbox), catch Bloomington, a story about a television actress who begins to question her sexuality while trying to lead a normal life as a freshman at Bloomington University.

Saturday: See Aussie troupe Circa among many other acts at Harbourfront Centre (photo by Leif Norman)

Saturday, May 21
Celebrate the weekend at Harbourfront Centre, which hosts the Toronto International Circus Festival, a three-day event beginning today and featuring extraordinary circus artists from the around the world. Catch eye-popping acrobats, gravity-defying rope walkers, fire-eaters, clowns and much more.

What’s black and white and coming back to the Toronto Zoo? Endangered African Penguins! The zoo’s new 6,000-square-foot penguin exhibit opens today with a state-of-the-art underwater viewing area so you can come face to face with the penguins.

Also starting today, the Alice in Wonderland experience takes over Black Creek Pioneer Village with events like a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, a “Through the Looking Glass” Maze and the Queen of Hearts’ Field of Games. Families can also enjoy all that the historic village has to offer, including farm animals, Victorian dancing lessons, and the interactive history centre.

Sunday: See cosmopolitan indie artist Lykke Li at the Phoenix (photo by SpoiltCat)

Sunday, May 22
The unique sounds of alternative rock-pop artist Lykke Li pervade the Phoenix Concert Theatre on tonight. Influenced by her nomadic past—having lived in Portugal, Sweden, India and New York City—Li’s quirky use of harpsichords, flutes and Theremins makes her music all the more mesmerizing.

The Kids’ World Energy Festival wraps up today at the Evergreen Brick Works, with family-friendly activities focusing on renewable energy, climate change and the science of energy. Together, parents and kids can learn what they can do to contribute to a sustainable future.

Celebrate the long Victoria Day weekend by catching some fireworks. Weather permitting, Canada’s Wonderland offers a show starting at 10 p.m., or make your way to Ashbridge’s Bay on Monday at 9:45 p.m. for a dazzling display of lights over Lake Ontario.

Hot Date: Cirque du Soleil’s Sizzling Show

photo by Camirand

JUNE 30 TO JULY 4 Poise meets daring in Alegría, yet another breathtaking and unforgettable production by the world renowned Cirque du Soleil. The show, named for the Spanish word for happiness, joy and jubilation, is sure to create these feelings with its jaw-dropping spectacle of gravity-defying acrobatics performed by 55 performers and musicians from 17 different countries. Among the exciting routines are the bedazzling Russian bars—where performers complete somersaults in mid-air, landing gracefully on bars supported by catchers’ shoulders—and the power track, a compelling combination of synchronization and choreography over a trampoline. Air Canada Centre, 7:30 p.m., $40 to $115; call 416-870-8000 or visit here to purchase tickets.