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On Wednesday night I was treated to a showing of Cirque du Soleil's Totem, followed by a tour of the company's wardrobe department. Naturally, the elaborate, larger-than-life costumes are one of my favorite parts of Cirque's productions, so I jumped at the opportunity to see them up close, and to hear about designer Kym Barrett's process in creating them.

In Totem, there are about 250 costumes, each hand sewn and painted, and many are embroidered with thousands of Swarovski crystals. The show is about human evolution, so the costume themes range from amphibians and neanderthals to glamorous showgirls, with many points in between. Since they have to meet the utilitarian needs of the acrobats wearing them, the process from initial concept to final execution is extremely extensive, and includes a lot of revisions. A single costume can cost $5,000 to create, and due to the amount of strain put on them, each one only holds up for about six months.

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Of course, an equally important part of each performer's overall look is the makeup, which they do themselves, rather than using a makeup artist. This entails 18 hours of advance training, and one to three hours of prep time before each show.

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  • cirquedusoleil.com

All the hard work pays off, and the end result is pretty mind blowing. And, oh yeah, the performers do lots of cool tricks too. If you haven't made it to Totem yet, it runs through May 4th, and you can purchase tickets here. Now, check out some of the amazing costumes (and acrobats) in action:

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  • Cirque du Soleil

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  • Cirque du Soleil

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  • Cirque du Soleil

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  • Cirque du Soleil

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  • Cirque du Soleil

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  • Cirque du Soleil