Kym Barrett designs a Cirque evolution

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Top: One of Kym Barrett’s designs for Cirque du Soleil’s Totem. Bottom: Barrett’s costumes as they appear in the touring show. Below: Costume designer Kym Barrett. Photos courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

You don’t go to a Cirque du Soleil show just to see the costumes. Audiences are usually slathering for the death-defying acrobatics and goofy clowns. But what separates a Cirque show from the rest of the circus fray is the spectacle, and that certainly has a lot to do with the costumes.

The latest touring Cirque opus is Totem, another artsy epic under a blue-and-yellow striped tent behind AT&T Park. The theme for this show is evolution, and the costumes are by a charming Australian designer named Kym Barrett. She’s best known for her work in movies – perhaps you’ve seen one of the Matrix movies or Speed Racer? If you haven’t caught one of those, you can check out her work in the upcoming reboot of the Spider-man franchise and the film adaptation of the hit novel Cloud Atlas.
Kym Barrett
I interviewed Barrett and Totem director Robert Lepage (a Canadian theater icon) for a story in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Check out the story here.

Here’s Lepage on working with Barrett:

“We’re not doing period pieces. We create a kind of closed-circuit universe with its own laws and color charts and vocabulary. Kym came with all of that. She is extremely creative, funny, playful and versatile and immediately set the tone for the universe we were creating. This is very much her show. We didn’t even know the characters we were trying to create, but she had photos and fabrics and references and ideas. She was very inspiring.”

And here’s a word from Barrett:

“By the end of the show we’re into kind of Aztec astronaut stuff. We used a lot of imagery from Aztec culture, but all the patterns you see in the actual fabric are from around the world. It’s sort of a designer United Nations in a way. They transcend their borders and move into the next sphere together. It’s all a bit transcendental.”


Cirque du Soleil’s Totem continues through Dec. 11 behind AT&T Park in San Francisco. Tickets are $47-$248.50. Call (800) 450-1480 or visit

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