Into The Blue
Cityscape caught up with Hungarian acrobat Viktor Franyo, who gets to live in the best of both worlds – both on Earth and on Cirque du Soleil’s stunningly recreated Pandora (as the Na’vi Kekunan Chief) in their lavish adaptation of James Cameron’s Avatar in TORUK – The First Flight.
Photos: Jesse Faatz Costumes: Kym Barrett © 2015 Cirque du Soleil
What can audiences expect from TORUK – The First Flight?
We have a wonderful storyline, which is rather new for Cirque du Soleil. We follow the story of the first Toruk Makto: the first Na’vi to fly a Toruk, the most feared creature on Pandora. The show is great for all ages, from youngsters to the older ones. Everyone can find something in it that suits them, and I feel like everyone should come watch it to be part of James Cameron’s incredible universe for two hours. After seeing the show, my friends said they felt like they were watching a movie live. It’s very special!
Were you a fan of the Avatar film before getting involved in the show?
Yes. I always loved James Cameron’s movies, especially Avatar. It’s very well done with amazing visual effects and a beautiful story of how nature and the Na’vi live together in harmony. Honestly, I think we would have a lot to learn from these inventive creatures. If anything, we could take them as an example of how to stop destroying our beloved planet Earth. I also love the soundtrack of the movie a lot. I actually listen to it before the show to get prepared. We also had the chance to visit Lightstorm Entertainment’s studios in Los Angeles, where they are working on the Avatar sequels… I can’t wait to see them!
How long does it take you to transform from human to Na’vi?
It is a process. First, I have to shave every day to put on the heavy make-up that we use for the show. In the beginning, putting make-up on my face took more than 2 hours! Now, after 2 years of practising almost every day, I can do it in 45 minutes to an hour. Then, we put on our costume. It consists of a full body suit, or unitard, with different accessories and headpiece specific to each tribe that we play. If you add the warm up time, it takes a good 1.5 hours to transform into a Na’vi and get ready for the show. Getting back into my human form is much easier and faster: 5 minutes to take off the make-up, and another 5 minutes to get out of the costume!
Did you have to learn any new skills specifically for Toruk?
Yes! Most of the cast are generalists, meaning that we are trained in many circus disciplines that we showcase during the show. However, during the creation of TORUK, I started to learn indoor kite flying, as I was part of the Kekunan Clan. And I actually became really good at it, even if I hadn’t tried it at all before. So after a year of hard work, I’m now the backup for our Kite Specialist in the show, and I became the captain for that whole scene! I really enjoy flying kites. It is demanding physically, but it is very different than any other acts. I also play the Kekunan Chief, who has a main part in the story line of the show, so I had to integrate acting as well. As a kid, I worked a lot in theatre in Hungary, so it was also a huge step for me to take this position and improve my acting skills.
Have you had any injuries in rehearsals?
Because of the level of the athleticism, there is always a risk of injury, but we take great precautions to avoid them. We’re all professionals who have been acrobats or athletes since a young age so we know our bodies well and know how to take care of them. We all have our specific trainings every day, and we have validations every week where we check our acts with the technical team. We also always have a really good warm up before every show to make sure we are ready for everything. We have two full-time therapists on tour that help us as well.
What’s the hardest thing to perform in the show?
One of the hardest acts for me is in the beginning of the show. It is called The Giant Loom, and is a 7-metre high structure with a mix of high bars and monkey bars, where we climb, dismount and somersault off it. Many of us are on the structure simultaneously, and others jump from trampolines as well, so we have to pay attention at every moment to make sure not to land on each other, and to catch the bars when we need to catch them! Another challenging moment for me is when we fly the giant kites above the audience. These giant traction kites are pulled only by our energy, so it’s a very fast run in the dark with many obstacles on the set. Any wrong decision could make our kites land in to the audience. Luckily, even if there are mistakes sometimes, because of our training and awareness, we have always managed to land them in a safe place.
What do you like to do with your downtime while on tour?
I like travelling a lot, especially to new places. I lived in the USA and in Europe for a long time. The furthest east I have been is Dubai, therefore I’m very happy to explore Asia, Australia and my all-time dream which is New Zealand! Usually, everywhere I go, I try to find a mix of touristy and local attractions. Trying the local food and drinks and finding activities with my friends depending on what specialty the city or country has to offer is what keeps my travel obsession alive! I also like to work on self-improvement, so I train a lot and take some online education. Last year, I finished my personal trainer course and this year, I’m going to pick up something new … I just haven’t decided what yet!
Where would you rather live: Earth or Pandora?
Good question. I wish I could mix the two up a little and take the good things out of both. Actually, thinking of it, I’m lucky enough to have both right now: Pandora is just on stage, but when I have my make-up and blue skin costume on I become a Na’vi of the awesome moon Pandora!
Cirque du Soleil: TORUK – The First Flight
Horncastle Arena, Sep 1 – 10