Toruk - The First Flight: The 18-date Cirque du Soleil Avatar-inspired show heading our way video

FLEUR MEALING/STUFF

Cirque du Soleil - Toruk The First Flight acrobats Jessica Ward and Daniel Crispin talk to Stuff reporter Glenn McConnell.

Daniel Crispin is an expert in the Na'vi tongue, a language that exists purely for James Cameron's fictional Avatar world.

And Crispin can go one step further, he has spent the last two years perfecting how to move like the Na'vi characters.

Why is he like this? Because circus is serious business.

Crispin, a 29-year-old Australian acrobat, is one of three principal performers in Cirque du Soleil's Toruk - The First Flight. The Avatar inspired show is on its way to New Zealand, with 18 dates set in Christchurch and Auckland this September.

Their circus is so important that Crispin says Cameron will sign off on almost every aspect of the performance.

Cirque du Soleil performers had to learn the Na'vi language in preparation for the show.
MATT BEARD/SUPPLIED

Cirque du Soleil performers had to learn the Na'vi language in preparation for the show.

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"While [Cameron's] off – busy building his ridiculous titanic Avatar empire – he had his No. 2 John Lansdown come out and he spent a lot of time hands on with us," Crispin recalls. The empire truly is "titanic", the film alone made almost $4 billion (NZD) and Disney just unveiled its Avatar theme park

There's no word yet if Wairarapa resident Cameron will make a trip to one of the city shows, but Crispin says he wouldn't be surprised. The acrobat has a few stories to tell about when Cameron came backstage in Montreal and New York.

Avatar director James Cameron continues to work on the franchise, with another film due out soon.
REUTERS

Avatar director James Cameron continues to work on the franchise, with another film due out soon.

"Hanging out with Jim was pretty wild," he says, although he doesn't go much further than to say, "we had champagne". 

 When Toruk finally arrives in New Zealand, Crispin will have performed the act hundreds of times. The tour launched in November 2015. Back then, Crispin says they were warned. "They told us this coming in. They said, 'this is going to be crazy hard, long hours, fast turnarounds and it's going to be really tiring'. We were all like, 'yeah!'," he recounts.

Is that still their attitude? He laughs, before saying, "well, the answer that you need to write is 'yes'."

Cirque du Soleil performer Jessica Ward in costume for the show Avatar, Toruk - The First Flight.
MATT BEARD/SUPPLIED

Cirque du Soleil performer Jessica Ward in costume for the show Avatar, Toruk - The First Flight.

With an intensive schedule that often demands two shows a day, and touring stretches of up to 12 weeks straight, Crispin says: "There certainly are days when I wake up and go, 'why are you doing this?'"

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In New Zealand, the performers will be asked to perform six nights in a row to fulfil their 18 shows.

Each show lasts for 110 minutes, as well as an intermission for "crashing on the pads backstage". Of that, Crispin says performers are expected to be on stage for all but 10 minutes of the show.

Australian acrobat Jessica Ward spends up to 12 weeks on the road with Cirque du Soleil.
SUPPLIED

Australian acrobat Jessica Ward spends up to 12 weeks on the road with Cirque du Soleil.

It's intense. Crispin's co-star Jessica Ward outlines a normal day for the pair. There's training every day. On show days, the acrobats will spend about an hour in the make-up chair. Then they have to deal with "the fun of live performance".

To keep the show flowing smoothly, a "pit crew" is brought in to redress the cast in minutes. And they need to change costumes regularly. Most performers play multiple parts, and then there are the accidents. Crispin carries a few changes each show because he keeps ripping through the wetsuit-like creations. "There's so much just being thrown around, beaten," he says.

When the bumps become too much, the principal characters also have replacements, ready to take over at any second. "It will only take minutes," Crispin says.

Cirque du Soleil principal performer Daniel Crispin in costume during one of the company's Avatar, Toruk - The First ...
MATT BEARD/SUPPLIED

Cirque du Soleil principal performer Daniel Crispin in costume during one of the company's Avatar, Toruk - The First Flight shows.

He calls the long hours, bumps, bruises and heavy schedule all part of his "commitment to the lifestyle".

"Step back and look at all of the amazing opportunities we have. We get to travel with friends, be immersed in these amazing cultures and perform to hundreds of thousands of people. 1.3 million spectators so far, that's nuts when you think about that," he says.

Cirque du Soleil's Toruk - The First Flight will be performed at Christchurch's Horncastle Arena (September 1 to 10), before moving to Auckland's Spark Arena (September 15 to 24). For more information, see cirquedusoleil.com

 - The Press

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