Toruk – The First Flight

Toruk – the  First Flight is the newest show from Cirque du Soleil which opens in Auckland on Friday 15th September 2017.

Inspired by James Cameron’s Avatar, the show takes the audience on a magical journey to the world of Pandora before the events depicted in the film.

There are 41 artists in the cast who work alongside 16 puppets representing the creatures of Pandora – Viperwolves, Direhorses, Austrapedes, Turtapede, Woodsprites, and the Toruk. While the Viperwolves and Direhorses are directly inspired by the movie AVATAR, the Austrapedes and the Turtapede were created from scratch. The Toruk has a wingspan of 40 feet and weighs approximately 250 pounds.

The stage floor is 15000 square feet, covered by nearly 700 square panels and when combined with 40 projectors, the world of Pandora comes to life!

Recently Andrew Whiteside sat down with two of the cast members to talk about the show. Kristi Wade is an Australian born acrobat and Guillaume Paquin is a French Canadian man who plays the role of Entu.

Both performers began learning gymnastics and acrobatics when they were just kids.

Kristi:

I saw my first Cirque du Soleil show when I was seven years old and I loved it. When the show started I touched my mum and said “that’s what I’m going to do!”

Guillaume:

When I was seven I started doing acrobatics alone in my back yard. Eventually, my dad took me to lessons and every day I was so excited I would run from the car to the circus.

What do you love about the show?

Kristi:

It’s our playground, It’s our Pandora – a luminescent experience because we get to do make believe as adults every day and live the characters and tell this incredible, beautiful story and get to share the joy of the audience. It’s an honour to be able to do that as a job. 

Guillaume:

I remember the first time we saw the projection we were sitting in the audience and we were all like – whoa that is the world. The whole thing that the movie managed to create visually, Cirque du Soleil manages to re-create – the projections, the costumes, the bioluminescence, the puppets.

Kristi:

You can slightly change up what you present each day, which is really nice because most shows have a set choreography. We have the freedom to change what we do. So long as I stay out of the way of whats happening over here and over here, I can move freely and interact with other people on different days. It’s really nice to go ‘you know what, I’m going to go over here today and play with Guillaume instead of eating berries with someone else over there.’

What role do you have in the show?

Guillaume:

In the show there are three main characters, Tsyal is the female character, Ralu is the older brother. I am Entu the youngest one and the curious one. When I am on stage as this character I can laugh, cry and live this whole story. Every night it is different. We have this place on stage to live, and it feels like we are living in Pandora

Kristi:

We have 5 different tribes in the show and generally, we each get to play three of them. I perform the aerial rope that acts as a vine. We’ve got some pull and some harness work, some acrobatics, so we do a little bit of everything. I have a lot of different personas, depending on what costume I’m in.

What does it feel like to perform?

Guillaume:

During a show like this, you get to really enjoy being the character. Because the technique is there you can go further in the interpretation. In the beginning of the show, we have this big veil, and my character is the first to go out and see the big space which is Pandora the planet. It’s like you are the character and being Entu in this moment. We become the nature of the Navi, and when we climb the vines, it is like we are the Navi.

So you are not just playing a party, you actually become the character?

Kristi:

Yes exactly. And that for me was quite extraordinary to go through the process of figuring out my character or just allowing it to evolve. To be able to live through that character rather than act is a super nice feeling.

Is it quite emotional for you being in this show?

Kristi:

As you’ve probably seen the movie is quite spiritual. So we are sending a beautiful message out, every time we perform. The basis of it is the connection with love and seeing everything as one, and having respect and purpose for everything you do. You get to watch a love story during all of that as well. I think all of us have a different personality and what we represent. Guillaume and I have chosen quite a spiritual way of presenting what we interpret a Navi to be. I’m personally quite spiritual, so it’s really nice to connect with the audience and connect with each other.

Guillaume:

The first thing we do every day at rehearsals is put the Navi tail on us and then we begin a ten-minute meditation in silence. We listen to the music of the movie and we talk about being close to nature and each other and we acknowledge who we are.

Kristi:

You have to believe it to be able to tell the story, and you will see on stage if someone is not believing it, they stand out. You have to embody it.

What is involved with the training? How challenging is it?

Guillaume:

Usually, we are both aerialists, but a lot of this show is on the floor, with a lot of running. I am there for two hours, running, speaking, jumping. And the Navi have this way of running which is really fast and includes jumping, so we need to train every day to keep this pace and energy and to keep us strong. So cardio wise we have to keep training, even if we have two shows a day to be able to perform during the show.

Kristi:

Ideally, you don’t want the show to be the hardest part of your day. So people say ‘you do that many shows, why do you need to train?”  It’s because you want the shows to be easier. If you are feeling fatigued, you concentrate more on making sure you are doing it correctly rather than the character. So you lose the character but you are definitely focussing more on keeping yourself safe. You need to keep the fitness up on the outside.

Guillaume:

If you are warmed up and fit, you have the energy to interpret even more. If you are struggling for breath in the show you are not going to play the character well.

I get a sense that there is great trust between you and that this is a really organic production. Do you feel as though you are representing a tribe?

Kristi:

Yes and that’s what they wanted at the beginning, they wanted us to develop a friendship with each other, and to act on stage with the emotions that we have to show. There are big scenes that require the Navi to ball their eyes out if that’s how you are feeling about the scene.

TORUK – THE FIRST FLIGHT

15 – 24 September 2017

Spark Arena

Book tickets here 

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