An Interview With Fabrice Lemire of Cirque Du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil is coming back to the 909 with a brand new and exciting show. Cirque du Soleil presents “Toruk the First Flight”, inspired by James Cameron’s Avatar. This incredibly adventurous and deeply immersive, narrative story is worth experiencing.
A big departure from the traditional and iconic style of Cirque du Soleil, Toruk will be a show to remember. We at 909 Magazine, sat down with the very talented and creative artistic director for Cirque du Soleil, Fabrice Lemire, to get his take on the show, and to find out more about this astounding presentation that you can catch here in the 909 at the Ontario Citizens Bank Arena from Nov. 2nd, through the 6th.
We met with Fabrice in downtown Claremont just outside the Claremont 5 theater. We didn’t waste much time getting down into the details of the show. He was very passionate and excited to talk about all the amazing things that they had put together.
909: Hello, It’s nice to meet you. Your name, for those who don’t know?
909: I was reading the bio they sent us. It says you’re an artistic director. What does that mean? What do you do on a day to day basis with the show?
Fabrice; My responsibility is to, really make sure the artistic and acrobatic content is up the standard of the company; and myself really. As well as taking care of the well being of my performers and my stuff. Ya know? Therefore if it’s a touring show and somebody has something they need at 1:00 or 2:00AM They can call my room and say there is a problem here. It might impact the show the next day and they might need me to get a hold of third party support. I can then call and make this adjustment. All of this is falling under the act of the artistic director.
I have a tendency to expand this very much, as a facilitator to make sure all the pieces of the puzzle are falling into the places, meaning that if asked to, like the show is new, we can evolve and push the performers outside of the box, or bring in different performers. If there is a shuffle in the cast it is something I can do as well.
Okay, cool thank you. So we were excited when we heard of the connection between Avatar and Cirque du Soleil. This seems like a big departure, I know you’ve done the Beatles show “Love”.
No you’re right, there was the Beatles, and Michael Jackson. You know there are two different things going on. You are following the brand, and blockbusters of Avatar, and you are following a company with a brand like Cirque du Solei, and the thinking is maybe to do something more narrative. We have not really done something like this before.
It shows something with more creativity, so you create a new show and it begins to fall into parameters that already exist. So that it falls into the world of Avatar, created by James Cameron but to the public it is not Avatar, so if they expect this, it is not this. It is inspired by, but it takes place 3,000 years before.
Yeah it’s Toruk, the first flight. Being familliar with the film it seems interesting to get more history. Who approached who? Did Lightstorm, with James Cameron and John Landau that approached Cirque Du Soleil? Or Vice versa?
It was a casual conversations at some kind of cocktail party, between James Cameron himself and Guy Laliberté the owner of the company which he shared with Jean-François a new guy as well, that it was influenced by some uh, let me rephrase that. Some of the character production from this were inspired by the film. Jean-Francois, our new guy said to him why not try to do a project on Avatar? So it was a project thought of in casual conversation six years ago. Then it went into germination three years ago when we found out that Jim, that is James Cameron was looking to do sequels or prequels. That was an opportunity with this being a perfect time. So a casual conversation became an idea, and then this project came to be.
Did you get to work directly with James Cameron or the team at Lightstorm?
Of Course! (laughs)
Oh Yes. They were very much involved with the creative process. To say that they guide us so that we keep a good eye on what would meet the vision of James.
Yes it’s a very unique vision.
So they had never told us what to do, but rather to remind us if we were drifting away from what the flavor of the moon Pandora would have. He would say “No maybe the Na’Vi would not do this, because-” or “Toruk is not act like them” and they’d give the reason why.
As an artistic director, what sort of physicality did you decide on? What sort of training do these performers go through. In terms of this show, their amazing athleticism is a large portion of the show. It’s an amazing feat.
Let’s take Toruk aside for a moment. Working with athletes, coming from a dancers background, the dancers are a lot more, what I call, performing in the grey zone. Which is figuring a way to evaluate a way to keep finding an artistic evolution. The acrobats itself there is no grey zone. It is repeat and repeat, week after week do it over and over until you get it right. When you get it right do it over and over so you never go back. This show, Toruk I am looking at profiles that have the acrobatic structure of training with the mind of a dancer, because the role that they are doing is so athletic. They are running around for two hours. These characters, and the actors run ten to eleven kilometers for each show.
Wow, that’s over six miles.
Yes it is that, and it’s very demanding. On top of this we are asking them to do some tricks and stunts and even more than that, which is why I took this show aside, they have the verbal component. They had to actually learn the language of the Na’vi and we had contact with the man who created the language for the film. If we needed new words or to understand better ways to say them we could e-mail him and he would send us mp3’s with the correct pronunciation.
So there is spoken dialogue in this show?
They are speaking. It is a narrative show. The performers that are on the floor speak the language of the film, and we have a narrator who is the bridge to the audience who is speaking English and will lead us through the quest.
That’s very unique too. I’ve seen very many Cirque du Soleil shows, and they tend to be a lot more transcendental, with little to no story.
You have the poetic approach, and your interpretation of the poetic approach over here, visual is very poetic. Here with this show we have somebody who can take your hand and tell you “here is the track we will take you.” and you listen, and it’s very interesting. As an audience member you will sit back more and enjoy this show more like a movie.
That must be interesting to set up based on the space you’re working with. Is there something different you have to do for each arena? Such as the Citizens Business Bank Arena, or the Staples Center?
The Stage that we use, we try to always recreate exactly the same space. So the performers can understand exactly what it is they’re playing on. However the backstage, entrances and dressing room, everything else of course will be different from one week to the next. We try really to recreate the same stage but sometimes there might be a very little change. Like a dancer might be closer to the stage. We do have a little bit of seats that will bleed out into the stage floors so sometimes the actors will go out onto the floor. So on the first day we do six hours of validation, and we validate everything such as aerial acts, and entrances and exits.
Where you a big fan of Avatar before you joined onto this project?
No. I was not a fan, but this is what I like about my job, and how I can get my mind around it.I became pasionate when I start to investigate and research the work that was involved with it. That is the only way you can succeed at being a good director. You have to be passionate about the project. You have to share that pasion and that vision, and share it with the people you work with. I have a strong passion for the cast and the people I work with. That’s what keeps me happy and balanced. I did enjoy Avatar, don’t take me wrong, I really enjoyed it, but I had only watched it once and I took it with me as a somebodies respected point of view, which met mine at some points. So when this project came emergent with the Cirque du Soleil platform I knew at once I wanted to be a part of it. Not only as artistic director, they allowed me during creation to be the assistant stage director. This allowed me to be the right hand of the two creators, which allowed me to really grasp on and work to be a better director afterward.
As this is a unique vision, what can the people look forward to seeing? What would you say are some of the highlights?
I would turn that around. Tell them to not come with the mindset that they are going to see Avatar, this is not Avatar. Tell them also this is not what I call the classic Cirque du Soleil production. If they are expecting us to rely mostly on the acrobatics, it is not that show. That show is good but we use more narrartion. The acrobatics are there to support a narative storyline. Therefore they come in on the second act. Also we are looking at a different actor. We are looking at what might be more impressive that has not been seen in other shows. The visuals is one of those. We also have done an act with indoor kites, they will be representing the flying creatures called the banshee. This has all been exciting to me and I would hope for the audience as well.
Yes, most people will see this as a big break away from the traditional show from Cirque du Soleil. We’ve heard a lot about the app that people can download and use to interact with the show, during the show. Can you tell us more about that and what we can expect from this?
It’s about participation. I was saying earlier that other shows have more of a passive participation that you look at more from the outside and you are diving into what I call an aquarium where the stage is. The only bridge you would have is the storyteller who is talking with you directly. The participation of the app, makes you feel at the very moment you are connected to the action. You are in the piece. Those participation of audience members; which at first of course you are talking to an ex-artist, this is disturbing. I don’t want a person next to me on this app and opening up the show. I want him to focus on the show; but it creates an atmosphere and adding an extra layer to the effect. A simple example would be, at the opening of the
second act it is in an aggressive scene and there is a chase and these wolfs attack the young kids. It is a stormy night with the rain and the lightning. Those have created this ambiance and to bring back the audience to focus on the action because you have this whiteness all over the floor. It’s really submerged an entire arena with lightning created from their phones. It creates a wow factor all of it’s own and the public is part of that wow factor.
That sounds amazing. So is this the direction you’re going to continue in? Is this the next step for Cirque du Soleil? Will you be moving back to a more traditional style anytime soon or moving forward with more changes?
One thing is, I don’t think we are breaking away. One thing with a company who has been around for thirty years, has to take challenges in different ways. We are not breaking away and we are constantly doing the more classical shows. They are there, and as a brand they can always be seen. With this show if you look it is not Cirque du Soleil production, it says Cirque du Soleil presents. So it is a participation with James Cameron. Not every show will follow this track, no but we can. It goes back to having a fan with such a high expectation of acrobatics that they go to our show and say “well I want more of that” but if we only give them just that. They will be tired of seeing the same thing. We give you something different so I invite you to come see the show for what is different and not what you are expecting.
So it is not so much “Instead” as it is “as well”
Yes, as well. Exactly.
Well thank you so much Fabrice, I really appreciated you for taking the time to sit down and speak with us about your upcoming show.
Thank you, and please enjoy the show.
After the interview with Fabrice, we were invited into the Claremont 5 and we all enjoyed a documentary on the creation of this production. We were allowed to see some of the interesting things that happened back stage during the creation of the show. It’s simple for me to say that this production is something that I’ve never seen before, neither in Cirque du Soleil history, or in film. It’s a unique and beautiful vision that can only come from the melding of two creative super giants in the field of art and entertainment; and I leave you with this final recommendation to not miss out on such a riveting and immersive experience that we get to enjoy here in the 909.