James Cameron fans and fans of Avatar, if you want to get a glimpse at what the legendary director is cooking up for the next series of films, look no further than Cirque du Soleil’s new stadium show Toruk. It’s inspired from Avatar and is a prequel tale of sorts, set a thousand years before the events of the film. I spent the last few days hanging out with the folks from Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk. This is the first of several stories. I caught up with one of the stars of the production Daniel Crispin.
They are at Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena for a very quick hit – June 9th – 12th. Check out the official website to find out when it’s coming to your town.
Can you talk a little bit about what you do with Cirque du Soleil?
Sure! I play one of the three principal characters, Entu, a teenage Na’vi boy. The role is quite a challenge as it involves so much stage time and acting as well as acrobatics. I am lucky because I also perform my specialty act, straps, in the show. It is quite the rarity to land such an incredible character role with your specialty act too (plus I am nearly 30 and I am asked to play a teenager).
People always ask me to describe Cirque. My response is always it’s the Circus for us pretentious people. How would you describe the Cirque experience?
Ha! I’ve worked in many different companies that have been labeled some great and slanderous terms, but never pretentious. I certainly wouldn’t say it is for the pretentious audience. Cirque du Soleil offers a very different experience. No two shows are the same, thus every experience is different. I’ve been working in this field for nearly a decade and I am still blown away by some productions when I have the chance to see them. Just this past weekend we were lucky enough to see “Kurios” in Boston, the last time I had been that excited and moved by a show was in 2009 in a tent show in a field in France somewhere.
Back to the answer at hand (my apologies, I can get very tangential in my answers), our show is particularly different to any other cirque show, it has even been likened to ‘The Lion King’ due to the digital, theatrical and puppeteering elements that are integrated into the acrobatic performance. It’s not pretentious, it’s neuvo and awesome!
How did you get involved with Cirque?
I did my Bachelors Degree at The National Institute of Circus Arts in Melbourne, Australia and in my graduating year Cirque du Soleil came to Melbourne and did a round of auditions. I had already been pestering them and sending videos for a year and a half at that point. I did quite well in the audition (although I kind of backflipped onto my head in my improvised dance piece – I was just so pumped that they selected ‘Poker Face’ by Lady Gaga as my impro song. Needless to say it was an entertaining, or at least memorable number) and I was put into their casting database.
I continued with my career in the industry for 5 years and had a blast working at different companies on different continents, all the while I continued to send footage through to Cirque du Soleil. They contacted me when I was working in the UAE to audition for a role in this show as I fit the physical profile (short) and had the required skill set. They sent me a list of dramatic and movement exercises to film and send back as my audition piece. 2 weeks later I had a skype call to let me know I had landed the role!
This production has the James Cameron touch and is inspired by Avatar. Can you talk a little bit about that?
TORUK – The First Flight is a prequel to Avatar. There are going to be a few films in the coming decades, so I don’t want to mess with the timeline/plot line, but the Avatar film was based on the human interaction/invasion on the Navi people, with the one of the most noteworthy scenes/moments being when Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, a great Aussie talent) connects and rides the most feared creature on Pandora, the Toruk.
TORUK – The First Flight predates human contact and is about the first Na’vi to ever ride the Toruk (Sorry Sam, beat you to it!). The whole show takes place on the planet Pandora and is filled with some phenomenal projections and images that change the arena into a beautiful alien planet.
Cameron is known as a control freak. How involved was he in the production?
Really, by who? Jim was so welcoming and supportive throughout this creation. When he came and watched our first presentation, he spent hours afterward with the cast hanging out like everyone had worked together for a long time. I remember the first time I met him we spoke at length while he stood next to a bowl of corn chips and munched away like we were old mates. He wasn’t just with the cast, when anyone in the public would approach him he would take time to stop, speak and happily take photos with them.
For someone at his status, professionally and personally he is an incredibly lovely man. His team at Lightstorm entertainment were amazing. They would collaborate with our directors and then the production would grow. Jim would be involved remotely alot of the time and would come to watch our presentations.
Besides talking to us, what has been the highlight of this tour for you?
That’s a tough question. Touring with some of your best mates and experiencing new cultures and cities every week is a highlight in itself. Life is never boring and there is always an adventure to be had in each city. But you’re certainly right, this tops the list 🙂
Can you talk a bit about the story of Toruk and highlights from the show that fans can expect?
I am always super bad at giving a synopsis without blowing the plot, so I will have to skip to the highlights. The projections are mind blowing. An amazing rock concert will have 2 or 3 projectors, we have 40. Each scene takes place in a new part of the planet which is illuminated by the projections. On top of this the costumes and props are amazing and are different for each scene. There is also some beautiful puppetry and of course, the quintessential Cirque du Soleil acrobatics!
Besides Toruk, what is your favorite Cirque production?
Tough question. ‘O’ will always be my favourite because it was my first Cirque du Soleil experience and inspired my career, but ‘Kurios’ was phenomenal. Lets call it a close tie between those two.
What is it like being on tour and what is the rehearsal schedule like?
It is amazing, it’s a life that most people couldn’t dream of, but it is really demanding. Human bodies aren’t designed to be beaten and bounced around like this 6 – 10 shows a week and then to be loaded onto a tour bus or plane and then sent to the next city to do it all again the following week. But that is part of the love of the game.
The days are pretty intense. As this is still a new creation we have rehearsals most days. Its not uncommon to be spending 12 or 13 hours a day at the arena. Some of the technicians and artistic team, who are the lifeblood of a production like this spend even longer. So its usually arrive around 10 or 11am and leave around 10 or 11pm. On Sunday we have a matinee double show and finish around 7.30pm. Once we take the final bow we generally have 30 minutes to have our makeup and costumes off, training and makeup kit packed up and to be on the bus to head to the next town. It’s truly amazing seeing the arena be torn apart and the show dismantled so quickly.
We work a 10 week block followed by a 2 week vacation period. Most people head home to be with their family or have a wild adventure somewhere around the world. Most of my family are scattered all around, so I usually do both 🙂
Why should people come out to see this?
I think I could write a longer list as why you’d be devastated if you didn’t come and see it! It’s an amazing show, with an incredible cast. There is something for everyone to love in this show and I would really love to know that as many people came and experienced it as possible.
Cirque du Soleil Toruk is running at Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena, June 9th – 12th. Check the official website for a tour stop near you.