After a nearly sold out engagement at the Staples Center, November 11-13, the new Cirque du Soleil arena show inspired by James Cameron’s record-breaking movie AVATAR, TORUK – The First Flight returns to Los Angeles at The Forum for six performances only from January 12-15, 2017. Pupeteer Ron Laqui entices us with details about the new show.
Tell me about working with Cirque du Soleil. How long have you been with them?
TORUK - The First Flight is my first Cirque du Soleil show. I started with the majority of artists in July of 2015. I actually first auditioned for Cirque du Soleil in 2001 and made it to their artist database in 2002. It was puppetry that finally got me to run away with the circus!
As a puppeteer, you obviously bring much imagination into the proceedings. Describe what is most magical about the puppets in TORUK.
The whole experience is magical. We puppeteers, and the creatures of Pandora we portray, are just one of the visually stunning and immersive elements of TORUK that draw audiences in and engage their senses. The entire arena floor becomes an otherworldly playground for the life size, full scale puppets and the level of design detail is so nuanced that it's easy for us puppeteers and the other artists onstage to believe we are on the moon Pandora.
Tell us about the story a little bit. It's before Avatar began, correct? How many puppet characters are new to us?
Yes! Our story takes place thousands of years before the events of the movie Avatar and details the adventures of some brave Na'vi youngsters and the first Toruk Makto. I don't want to give too much away... you'll have to see for yourself! Just know that if you are a fan of Cirque du Soleil and/or Avatar you will see a side of both that will thrill and surprise you. And yes, there are some new creatures that are new to the fans of Avatar. There are two new animal species approved by James Cameron himself.
When Cirque approached you in 2014 about TORUK, did they ask you to design the puppetry for the show?
No, the puppets are designed by Patrick Martel, who is based out of Montreal. One of the cool things about being involved with TORUK from creation is seeing how the show evolves. Cirque makes it a point to continue improving and honing the concept of the show to make it better. This is the same with the puppets. We continually seek to improve how the puppets are made so they can be the best tools for the puppeteers as artists to fully express the creatures of Pandora. I think my background in working in a puppet building studio helps me understand mechanics and materials better to assist in how the puppets get better. It really is a collaboration.
Talk a bit about War Horse and that whole wonderful experience.
War Horse was the production that set me down the road of puppeteering as a true artistic endeavor. I hadn't thought of myself as a puppeteer before War Horse and couldn't have dreamed of a better introduction to the world of full scale puppetry. Working with the designers (Handspring Puppet Company) of those incredible puppets and the creative and producing teams (National Theatre of Great Britain/ Bob Boyett) of the production was inspirational. It was a dream job I didn't even know I needed! It was one of those rare projects in an artist's life that are truly delightful and absolutely transformative.
You have a great musical background as a dancer and performer. When did you first get interested in being a puppeteer? Your musical background must help your performance a lot. Explain.
I've always loved puppets and puppeteering. I think I'm like a lot of people in that my first exposure to puppetry was through Jim Henson and the Muppets. I thought there was a magic in how much life and personality went into the Muppets. When I look back at companies that have caught my attention, (Mummenschanz, Imago out of Portland) and companies I've worked for (HT Chen and Dancers, MOMIX) I see glimpses of why puppetry is now my main focus. These companies have elements of technical physical training and extensive prop and object manipulation. I say that I kind of approached dance like puppetry in that I would 'puppeteer' my body.
I trained in musical theatre because it was my main performance exposure and honestly, I thought it would yield the most employment, but looking back it was the best training because it gave solid background in how to marry physical technique, musicality, and expression in performance.
Funny, if you would've told me as an aspiring artist in school that I'd have the career path I've had, I definitely would've thought you were crazy! It has been such an amazing journey and working for Cirque du Soleil and this show has been a culmination of so many dreams I didn't even know I had!
What for you sets Cirque du Soleil above every other circus? What makes them special?
Cirque du Soleil make dreams come to life. They use circus arts as a way into fantastic worlds of imagination. The incredible artists Cirque du Soleil uses, from the acrobats able to perform super human feats, to the designers who come up with the brilliant concepts and whimsical landscapes, to the artisans and technicians that physically create and maintain these visions, these talented people allow the audiences to wonder if they are still in everyday reality and if you think about it, they are not. The millions of people that have seen a Cirque du Soleil show have been transported to these universes of ingenuity and fantasy and have left forever changed. It's an honor to be part of this company and this show and to give people a taste of what they never thought was possible.
Tickets are now on sale at https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/toruk.