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Cirque du Soleil’s Fabrice Lemire on working with James Cameron

Their new production, "Toruk: The First Flight," is inspired by "Avatar."

Thirty-three years after its start in Montreal, it is now a new normal to see the colorfully acrobatic, atmospheric Cirque du Soleil and its multitude of themed productions. They occur so often, you can throw a rock and hit one. The plan, then, is to make them unique, with potential new partnerships like in the case of “Toruk: The First Flight,” which is based on the the James Cameron film “Avatar.”

Along with "Toruk" being the first time that a Cirque show is inspired by a movie, it is also the first time that the troupe has followed a narrative storyline with speaking parts for its main characters. Paris-born Cirque Artistic Director Fabrice Lemire worked directly with Cameron and his Lightstorm production company to bring the blue Na’vi world to life on the stage.

Who comes up with the names for Cirque shows and must they always top the flourishing grandeur of the last big show?
We do have a fine marketing department who, when a subject comes to the table, must find a great name. There was a lot of development here. We are not doing stage work that comes directly from "Avatar" so we can’t use that. We are however “inspired by,” so that we can say. The Toruk is that large flying character that we see in the film. The main character bonded with one of those creatures, as did five other Na’vis. We are concentrating on the first one that a Na’vi could mount.

This is the first time Cirque du Soleil has ever constructed or followed a distinct narrative. What specifically is that narrative?

It is the first time that we have collaborated with such … organizations as Cameron’s, so with that, we could develop a new form of creativity, an opportunity for the company to fully design a concept rather than leave so much space for the audience to fill in the blanks. Usually an acrobatic fete drives the story — supports an emotion. Now they support the narration, as as does the projections which makes the whole show feel like a film. Why not explore a new direction with a partner such as Cameron? Especially since there are messages regarding acceptance, respect and diversity — to not fear the unknown.

What big adjustments did you have to make to your artistic direction given this is the first time you’ve been inspired by a film?
Thirty years ago we came to the scene as something different and innovative — a circus without animals, a showcase of emotion and movement. We are still active and present and have a chance to reconnect ourselves with new technology and continued innovation. On the creative side of things, you have to renew yourself — reinvigorate the vision. James Cameron allowed us to open up new aesthetic horizons. More so than ever, lighting and projections drive this show.

Why did Cirque du Soleil pick “Avatar”? How does James Cameron’s vision fit with that of your company?
About eight years ago, Cirque co-founder Guy Laliberte met Cameron at a party, where he said he was very inspired by our work for his films. The subject of collaboration came up. Now, here we are. He is currently developing three or four prequels and sequels to his "Avatar" vision, so the timing was perfect. We have to understand the territory we are dancing on, while staying in alignment with his vision. We picked on him because his message resonated with us — protecting the earth, tolerance and caring for each other. As we see and hear the news, these issues are crucial for us to move mountains together.

If you go:

"Toruk: The First Flight"
March 8-12
Various prices
Wells Fargo Center
3601 S. Broad St.
Purchase tickets at www.cirquedusoleil.com/usa/philadelphia/

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