Costumes & Characters
Kym Barrett’s initial approach to the TOTEM costume designs was rooted in
documentary-based reality. This process entailed research into real animals,
plants and birds as well as traditional cultural and tribal designs to source
her fanciful, inventive concoctions.
Her other major preoccupation was the show’s theme of evolution, which led
her to emphasize the importance of the human body at every opportunity. She
points to the example of a forest populated by butterflies and frogs, saying
it was important to her to show the human body as part of the overall visual
mosaic of the scene.
In the opening scene the marsh is populated by fish and frogs. Their patterns
and colours came from real fish and frogs—including the most poisonous frog in
the Amazon jungle—and are replicated by the pixelation of the image in the screen
printing process. The textures of the fabrics are also a close match to the skin
of fish and frogs found in nature. The end result resembles a community of human
The third show theme reflected in the costumes is the cycle of the seasons,
which underscores the importance of nature to the show. Neon-bright colours,
vivid, shiny fabrics and playful details lend a summer atmosphere to the
Bollywood-inspired beach scene. To suggest a time of harvest and the abundance
of fall, the unicyclists’ costumes are printed in earth tones and feature seed
pods, flowers, trees, and leaves, with other small details sewn on to them -
including bolts and screws, as well as feathers and insects. And the two roller-
skaters are dressed in white and silver to help create a winter tableau.
To recreate such a broad range of textures, colours and markings found in nature,
Kym concentrated on the treatment of fabrics rather than on the fabrics themselves:
advanced printing techniques, fluorescent pigments, mirror fragments and crystals
allowed her to “paint” on canvases as varied as Lycra and leather, with results
that constantly interact with and adapt to the show’s ever-changing lighting.
The costumes worn by the foot-juggling duo are based on Lycra body stockings.
Each is adorned with 3,500 crystals and the 2 headdresses are each encrusted with a
The Cosmonauts are wearing two costumes in one: when they first
appear (under black light), their body-hugging Lycra suits glow dramatically in the
dark, but as soon as the stage lights kick in, their look is completely transformed.
Some of the printed motifs recall Mayan drawings, and each artist is wearing an individual
variation on the theme.
The Crystal Man
He symbolizes the universal force of life; he is the harbinger of said
existence, sparking the evolution of Human life on Earth. His is a
character tough to miss - his dazzling costume is literally covered in
thousands of small mirrors and crystals (about 4,500 reflective
components in all) to create that proverbial fireball that seeded our
world, giving way to twelve acts and performances that exemplify the
evolution of mankind.
The Tracker, is an environmentally conscious friend of the animals.
Although normally seen guiding "The Scientist" in his explorations of
discovery, he can also turn into a virile toreador apinning his Devil
Sticks after becoming angered by the thoughtless polution of Earth.
"The Scientist", a Darwineque explorer who tottles
throughout the various scenes of the show teeters in his
advanced laboratory experimenting on new theories he's
discovered. He represents reason and the quest to understand
the universe in ways that can be quantified, measured and put
into tiny little boxes.
The Amerindian Dancer
The young Amerindian dancer takes us into a magical world, tracing
the history of the evolution of species with his rings. His
costume is inspired by the traditional, ceremonial clothing
of a number of North American Indian tribes, rather than an accurate portrayal
of any one culture. It includes a Hopi cross and a headdress, and features
extensive use of leather.
Valentino, the macho, is a chatty, boastful provocateur. With his
camera in hand, he is a lively, arrogant tourist who litters and disturbs.
Misha, the Clown
Misha, a practical man, is wary of fuss and extravagance. He finds a
silver lining (or a steel pot) for every situation life throws his way.
As a fisherman clown, he rows onto the stage, sets up a barbecue, juggles eggs
and transforms a plastic bag into a swan. In another skit, he and Valentino
are riding the waves in a motorboat.