August 23, 2013
Behind the Scenes: Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM
One thousand five hundred pieces of clothing, from wigs to shoes and unitards, make up the costume closet for Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM.
That’s 750 items for one show, and 750 backup items.
Keeping track of all of that Lycra is Amanda Balius, pictured right, head of wardrobe for TOTEM, which is showing at the Ohio Expo Center through Sept. 13. Balius ensures the overall vision of the show is represented through the 46 performers’ costumes. We talked with her about where the Cirque wardrobe designers sought inspiration and how everything, from the shoes (some hand painted daily) to the makeup (which can take up to 90 minutes), comes down to consistency.
—Taylor Rogers, @rogerstaylorj
Tell us about the inspiration for these costumes.
The inspiration comes from evolution, like the theme of the show, and more importantly, a lot of mankind’s contribution to its own evolution, how we became who we are today and where we’re trying to get to in the future. That’s represented by our Cosmonauts and our desire to conquer space and leave our planet and see what else is out there. We also have our more traditional evolution aspects, like we have our apes and the fish—the idea that we all come from the water, that water was what enabled life on earth.
What types of fabrics are used?
Most of the fabrics for a circus tend to be Lycra-based because it does allow for feasibility of movement. We’re not asking them to just stand there and deliver lines. We’re asking them to do triple saltos and things like that, so it’s very important that the fabrics and the costumes are comfortable for the artists. In cases where it’s not an acrobatic number, maybe it’s a manipulation number like our juggler, we do use a lot of wools and natural fabrics.
Any one particular costume that was hard to conceptualize?
There was a lot of research and development into the Crystal Man character, who opens the show. He represents the spark that created life, whether it came from a star or a comet or whatever. His costume is completely covered in mirrors, so he looks a little bit like a geode. There was a lot of research because, of course, they’re mirrors. We can’t sew them, so how do we get them to stay on? A lot of different prototypes went through that process for that costume. It makes a big visual impact.
What’s a typical day like for you under the Big Top?
We spend most of our day doing maintenance and repairs. Our general maintenance consists of, you know, we need to paint shoes, fit new costumes. We have regular fittings and trainings, plus just the average wear and tear that they go through because they’re not just standing there. There will be holes or zippers that need to be replaced. Then before the show we help a couple of the artists with their makeup. We do some hair in the show as well.
How do you work to prevent malfunctions?
We have a maintenance schedule for certain pieces that are more delicate. They’re checked every day. For instance, our roller skater costumes, because they are on wheels and they have a lot of beading, they’re checked every day to make sure the beading is tight and secure. Other than that, the artists will let us know if they might be getting a hole or if there is a problem with a zipper. But, of course it’s a live show, so things are going to happen when you least expect it, but that’s why we’re here.
Any favorite costume?
There are certain moments in my time here that I like one costume more than another. It just kind of speaks to me in the moment. Right now I’m very partial to the unicycle costumes [pictured with her, top right]. They represent that earthy and that harvest time and the abundance that the earth gives us to allow us to exist. It’s covered in nuts and bolts. For the designer, it represented in 1,000 years when archaeologists dig up things, this is what they’re going to remember from our time period. Our contribution to our evolution was the industrial age. It’s something that you see consistently throughout all of the costumes in TOTEM.
How long do performers take to do their makeup?
The average performer takes about an hour to do his or her makeup. Some of them will take about an hour and a half. We have quite a few perfectionists on our show. They all have a step-by-step guide, which shows them every process with a photo, and it’s done on them, so they see what it looks like on their face. It tells them what colors, what brush to use, where to put it. When you’re doing the same makeup for three or four years, it would be easy to slide off and change a line here, so this is always a document they can refer to so they can maintain the same look every night.
But this isn’t makeup the average person would have, right?
You’d be surprised. We use a lot of different makeup companies. On this show, we use seven makeup suppliers. They range from a more theatrical makeup, like Ben Nye, which tends to be thicker in consistency and thicker in pigment so we can get bright colors and intense colors. But we also use MAC. In this show, because we are dealing with human characters, we have a lot of natural makeup that’s just enhanced to make sure it’s bright and readable on stage.