Behind the makeup of Cirque du Soleil's 'Toruk'

Watch a performer from Cirque du Soleil's 'Toruk' transform into a Na'vi character.

Looking at the finished product — a blue-hued otherworldly creature with lightning-quick, graceful movements — it's hard to imagine that just an hour before, Lisanna Ohm appeared to be a normal human.

But in that relatively short time, Ohm has transformed herself into the Tipani chief from "Toruk — The First Flight," the live production by Cirque du Soleil inspired by James Cameron's movie "Avatar." The show will be performed at Royal Farms Arena from Thursday through June 12.

The role requires Ohm to apply her own makeup, a process that involves a lot of contouring, the application of four shades of blue cream-based makeup, huge quantities of finishing powder, and intricate lines and dots that are true to the characters from the hit movie.

"It's all about shading and mixing colors. You want to bring out the cheekbones," Ohm said as she was more than halfway through transforming her face into one of an extraterrestrial creature. "You don't realize how many steps are needed."

Ohm is one of about 40 performers onstage at any given time during the performance. In addition to all the tricks, movement and acting required, performers have been trained to apply their own makeup.

"Some days are better than others," Ohm said of the transformation. "But it's never horrible."

Ohm said she listens to music and chats with other performers while putting on her makeup and garb.

"You don't feel in character until you're onstage," she said.

"Toruk," written and directed by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, is a prequel to the 2009 film. The live production is Cirque du Soleil's 37th since 1984.

The story is narrated by a "Na'vi Storyteller" and tells a tale set thousands of years before the film "Avatar" and before any humans came to Pandora.

"I'm excited to be a part of the prequel," Ohm said. "It's setting the stage for the movies."

As the Tipani chief, Ohm gets a good amount of stage time.

"It's a fun character to play," she said. "I go through a lot of emotions."

But good luck attempting to tell her apart from the dozens of other actors on stage.

"It's hard," she said. "My fiance even has a hard time telling who I am."

To prepare for the production, Ohm watched the movie about five times, focusing only on the scenes that involve the Na'vi people. She said it helps her to emulate the movement and behavior of her character.

Ohm has tapped into her 20 years of competitive gymnastics to take on the rigors of the role.

"It's really intense as far as a cardiovascular standpoint," she said. "You are running around a lot."

Cameron has seen the production twice, Ohm said, and it has his seal of approval.

"He checks off on everything," Ohm said.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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If you go

Cirque du Soleil's "Toruk – The First Flight" runs June 9-12 at Royal Farms Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St. $35-$105. Call 410-347-2020 or go to royalfarmsarena.com.

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