The blue and yellow big top will be the month-long home to Cirque du Soleil’s production of “Totem.” Photo by Tony Cagala
Rancho Santa Fe Lead Story

Cirque du Soleil raises roof on latest production

DEL MAR — It takes a village to make a village, or so it seemed Thursday, when the massive blue and yellow “Big Chapiteau,” or big top, was raised at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. “It’s a small village that travels from city to city,” said Jeff Lund, company manager on “Totem.”

More than 100 workers begin hoisting the massive tent into position for the Cirque du Soleil production of “Totem,” which opens April 25 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Photo by Tony Cagala

Following the arrival of the caravan of 65 trucks, carrying around 1,200 tons worth of equipment, a crew of more than 150 people has been making preparations for the newest Cirque du Soleil production “Totem.”

The raising of big top is one of the big benchmarks, said Mike Millman, operation production manager. “The second that it’s up…that’s when all of the show equipment comes inside and we can start setting up the rest of the site. This day is a pretty hectic day; it’s fantastic,” he added.

This is the fifth tour stop for the company that takes eight days to set up and two to tear down. Following the San Diego performance, the crew will pack up and drive across the country for their next stop in Boston, Mass.

When they do arrive in a city, they do bring a financial impact with them, Lund explained. “We hire roughly between 250 and 300 locals,” Lund said. Many of those work the front-of-house operations, and also the hiring of local staff through unions to set up the tents.

“It’s really a collaboration of everybody’s dedication in order to put on such a great show,” he said.

“Totem” explores the evolution of mankind, explained Publicist Francis Jalbert. He said the theme of the show emerged after Cirque du Soleil gave writer and director Robert Lepage carte blanche to create a new show. This is the second show Lepage has worked on for Cirque du Soleil.

“Totem” is about showcasing human beings, Jalbert explained. “The fact that we always want to push forward and further our limits…It’s a way to pay tribute to where we come from as a species and where we are going,” he added.

With the tent in position, workers begin to load in all of the show’s equipment. Photo by Tony Cagala

But the show isn’t heavy-handed in any messages. “When you watch the show, we don’t present evolution in a chronological order. We go back-and-forth into time,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to know what the theme of the show is…because what we do at Cirque is that we want people to have their own interpretation of what they’re seeing. So there are 2,600 people in the audience and each will get something different from the show because there’s no spoken language.”

“Totem” opens April 25 and runs through May 27 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Tickets are available at