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Cirque du Soleil has a reputation for pushing creative boundaries and relentlessly innovating. Their latest offering, Toruk – The First Flight, is case in point. Based on the James Cameron movie Avatar, Toruk is a hybrid of theatre and circus featuring large scale puppetry.

Being part of a Cirque du Soleil show means expanding your skill set dramatically, as puppeteer Kailah Cabanas discovered after being chosen to join Toruk. 

“I’m just open to learning different skills, I suppose, and the more I can learn, the more versatile I can be,” says Cabanas. That attitude was tested when she was required to do aerial work as part of her role as she is petrified of heights.

Cabanas trained as an actor which included some training in puppetry. She auditioned for and landed a role as a puppeteer in a children’s show.

“It was actually a lot of fun, it came to me quite naturally and I loved it, so that was my first puppeteering job.” That led to a job as part of the team operating the full size puppet in War Horse, and with that on her resume, she moved onto Cirque du Soleil.

Puppetry is just one of the new elements being incorporated into Toruk. While the show will still include the usual high level of acrobatics, it will also use bio-luminescent projections and complex lighting. All the creatures from the original movie – plus some new characters – are in the show. There is a strong narrative, to the extent that there is a storyteller.

However, Cabanas insists “you don’t need to be a super fan of the movie to enjoy the show.”

As well as manipulating movements, the puppeteers make the sounds for the creatures vocally. For Cabanas this is an opportunity to inject personality and use her acting skills and allow an audience to believe this inanimate object is real and feel emotional about it.

“That’s what got me more into puppetry – because I felt there was this magic behind it.”

Oct 19-29. Qudos Bank Arena, Edwin Flack Ave & Olympic Blvd, Sydney Olympic Park. $76.40-$458.35+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.cirquedusoleil.com

By Rita Bratovich.