Leave it to the Canadians to turn the theory of evolution into wholesome family entertainment. “Totem,” the Cirque du Soleil show that has pitched its tents at National Harbor through Oct. 7, traces Homo sapiens’ development from grunting apes to grunting men who turn flips wearing neon spandex. Humanity has never looked this superhuman. Unless you’ve been watching the Olympics lately.
There’s a lot of impressive gymnastics in “Totem,” the 28th show in the Cirque franchise. Since the original no-animal circus debuted in Quebec City nearly two decades ago, the troupe has grown both more sophisticated and more commercial, tackling themes that include entomology, Elvis and the Beatles. Now, “Totem” imagines how humans evolved from the primordial ooze, with an emphasis on amphibians and aboriginal aesthetics.
A 20-yard turtle shell is at the center of the tent, and proportionately tall marsh grasses obscure the audience’s view of a band at the rear of the stage. The music is heavy on the pan flute and traditional percussion. Once it starts, the “shell” flies off the turtle, revealing an oval jungle gym and a menagerie of men in glittery green, all ready to ricochet from the high bars to a hidden trampoline down below. They swing, flip, catch and release.