Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cirque du Soleil: Totem

I'm a big fan of Cirque du Soleil -- I've probably seen at least 10 of their shows.  So when I learned that a new show -- Totem -- would be at the Royal Albert Hall this month, I was very excited.  I've walked past the Albert Hall many times, but I've only peeked inside the lobby, so I jumped at the chance to see Cirque du Soleil there.  We had tickets for the 7:30 pm performance on Sunday, but we hopped on the Tube in the afternoon so we could spend some time at the nearby Natural History Museum beforehand.

They charged me £2 to print these out on my own printer!
The Natural History Museum is another legacy from the Victorian era, and sits side-by-side with the Victoria & Albert Museum, my personal favorite.  Since I've been to the V&A four or five times, but have never been to the Natural History Museum, we figured it was about time.  Like its sister across the street, the museum impresses you architecturally before you even step inside...
Outside the Natural History Museum
 And then really wows you when you walk into the main hall.
Inside the Natural History Museum (with requisite dino skeleton)
In case you doubted its provenance, Queen Victoria (aka Victoria Regina) has left her initials all over the museum.
Queen Victoria really left her mark!
Having spent a lot of time in the National Museum of Natural History in DC, I found myself more intrigued by the architecture than the exhibits.
Even the gift shop was ornate
Until I saw this case, which is filled with HUNDREDS of hummingbirds of all shapes, sizes and colors!  This display is nearly 200 years old, and was even the subject of a book.
To enter the Earth Sciences gallery, you ride a looooong escalator past stars and planets and go through a giant metal sphere.  Sure beats taking the stairs.
Entering the Earth Science gallery
We left shortly before the museum closed and went in search of an early dinner before the show.  We ended up at a new Lebanese restaurant down the street.  It turned out to be a chain, but the food was decent, and very reasonably priced.   The service was much quicker than it normally is at restaurants in London, so we ended up with time to kill before the show.  It was quite cold out, but we went for a walk around the Royal Albert Hall before going inside and finding our seats.
We weren't allowed to take photos inside the hall, but you can take a virtual tour on their website.  Like the museums, it's equally impressive both inside and out.  A circular stage was set up in the middle of the hall, with another circular ramp leading down to it from a curtained-off area behind it (where the pipe organ is in the virtual tour).  The show was fantastic, and really worked well in this venue.  Nearly every act left you wondering, "How (and even WHY) do they do that?!"  The most impressive act was five Chinese women flipping stacking bowls onto their heads (and each others heads) with their feet while riding 6-foot-high unicycles.  Yes, that's right.  While riding unicycles!

Many of the performers clearly started out as gymnasts, so parts of the show reminded me a bit of the gymnastics competition I had seen a few days earlier.  Except these weren't teenage girls in sparkly leotards -- they were grown men dressed as tree frogs.  Gymnastics on psychedelic drugs!  Coincidentally, Totem is headed for California next, and then Washington, DC, so I encourage all of you who live where I used to live to go see the show.  And if you're reading this from London, go see it before it closes on Feb 16!  (I suggest buying tickets from the box office to avoid the ridiculous "print-it-out-yourself" fee.)

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