“Let Go Everything You Had and Open Mind to Experience Everything and Everyone“. Interview with “Fire Tamer” from Cirque du Soleil

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Since 1984 Cirque du Soleil has been giving smiles and entertaining audiences with colorful and outstanding performances. Originally established in Québec, Canada as a circus tent, today it’s a massive show that has about 4,000 employees, of which 1,300 are performers originating from more than 50 different countries.

Alegria (that is translated as joy and fun) was first performed in 1994 and since then has never stopped amazing people with its dynamic, energetic and emotional vibes. Colorful costumes and opera singing are mixed with perfect choreography, performances of acrobats, fearless aerialists and fire-knife dancers. It seems like all of these multicultural performers and their arts cannot work together, but maybe this is what makes Alegria so unique. Youth Time went backstage to have a talk with one of the performers – 27 year old Hawaiian fire-knife dancer Micah Naruo, who has pretty much been away from home for 10 years now and all for his main passion in life – playing with fire.

What does fire knife dancing mean to you? Is it a way of life, your hobby, a way to get money or something else?
First of all the fireknife dance is a passion of mine. I’ve always loved to play with fire and to entertain people with it. So to me it’s not just a hobby, I feel very strongly about it. I think it can show through my performance on stage.

How did the idea of performing fire knife dance in front of an audience come to you?
Growing up in Hawaii I saw it in the shows, in the tourist industry there is a lot of entertainment with fire, so since childhood I just wanted to try to be like those guys, who perform every night. But I just wanted to learn how to spin it and I never thought of it as being my number 1 occupation, I just wanted to play. And then I saw job opportunities and I got lucky.

What do you want to tell with your dances? Do you have any message in your show or is it just to play with fire in order to impress people?
Our show in general is left open for interpretation for the message. But for me, the fire act, that I’m participating in, means something. Fire represents power and strength. I think that we’re warriors of fire and we are protecting this kingdom with fire and knives, we burn the floor to create purity and cleanse any negative energy.

Tell me about yourself? How did your career in Cirque du Soleil start?
I began doing fire knife dancing when I was 13 years old. Growing up in Hawaii you see fire everywhere. There are many shows with a fire act in it. It’s a cultural dance and comes from the island of Samoa. It grew from a hobby to a profession. I was approached by Cirque du Soleil at a competition when I was 16 years old. It didn’t get to the point of cooperation though. When I was 19 I submitted my resume. However, it took 5 years for a position to open up for me. It was quite a waiting process; meanwhile I got to do some other things like finish my college education and master my skills in working with fire. I’ve been touring with Cirque du Soleil for 3 years now.

What does the cirque give you personally?
It’s just like any other job that I had. But there is a difference where we do everything together: we travel, eat, do laundry. We’re like a big family but we have a job and we do it. It feels like a family away from home. It’s a different lifestyle: to transfer to new cities every week and live out of two suitcases.

What are the relationships between you in the cirques? Love, hate, friendship?
I have a lot of friends here and a girlfriend as well in the show. Some you hang out with a little more than with others. It’s just like normal life when you’re at work.

Can you categorize circus as a sport?
I don’t find it as a competition or a sport. The show consists of acts and we don’t compete with each other, we just we come together as one and present this show well. I feel we’re doing our best with what our act requires us to do and we’re sharing our gifts with the public.

Trust between colleagues as at any other job is very important. It’s even more important in your dangerous craft. How did you and your stage partner come to mutual understanding?
When I started my work in this show, I immediately met my partner, whom I was going to do the fire with. My partner is from Tahiti. We talked with him and found much in common. I think it all has to do with the respect for the fire because it’s dangerous and if you don’t respect it you can badly injure yourself. Both of us have a common respect for this element. And then we have a common background in learning. You know we got burned and had this happen and this happen. You build a bond in that way. That’s where your trust develops.

What do you think makes your performance in Cirque du Soleil unique and different from other performers with the fire?
It’s quite dangerous. Fire knife has a hot metal blade on one side and the other side is a ball, but both are on fire. We’re throwing them back and forth to each other, putting them in our mouths, putting them on our feet. We get burned, there is nothing to protect us except for our skin. There are no crèmes or anything that I know of to use. I think this makes our fire performance different. According to statistics there are only 2 shows out of the 19 shows that our company has produced that has this specific type of fire act. As I said before it’s a cultural dance that comes from the island of Samoa, Polynesian culture. The difference is we’re not wearing leaves like at home in Hawaii, we’re wearing leather and make up which is very “Cirque du Soleil” quality. They put their touch of magic onto you and that is what I think makes it different. And we have different music, costumes, make up and we’re setting a different atmosphere with the lighting. You see this cultural element but in a whole new world.

It’s known that there are performers from different countries in Cirque du Soleil. How does it feel to be in a multicultural company?
I think it’s really interesting and different from what I was used to. Different holidays, countries, cultures – it definitely opens my mind and my eyes to seeing. For example, there is a different reaction from each of our backgrounds. For example, we have a high bar team. There are artists from maybe 6/7 different countries but they’re successfully doing the same act together. And I think their language is their sport, their athleticism and trust to each other.

You have finished college and now you work as a fire knife dancer. What do your parents think of your job?
My parents at first said “do you want to play with the fire?” and I said “yes, I want to try”. They found out that we don’t have any fire on us, you don’t get burned, I just hit with the practice sticks at first and only then did they agree. Then when they saw that I was getting better they told me that I could try it full-time.

Now you’re 27 and maybe after 5 years you need to create a family. Is it possible to do it in the circus on the road?
It is. There are other colleagues of mine who are balancing. They have a child or 3 and they go back and forth. Sometimes their child comes to travel with them. It all depends on the person. As for me, I have no plans of that, like a specific date. I’m not really in a race or rush to accomplish this.

Is there something outside of the performance that gives you the same feelings and that you can compare to “playing with the fire”?
I think in general my look at life is to take risks and to try something new because you never know. For example, maybe playing with fire is dangerous but if I never took this risk I would never be here, have this job here in Prague and touring. I try to open my mind to other things in life: it could be meeting new people, traveling to new places, experiencing other cultures – you would never know.

Can the creation of a family be compared to playing with the fire?
Yes, this is also a risk. I don’t think anyone can actually know what it is to have a family until they are there in that moment. I have some ideas how that might be, but when the time comes and I’m going to take that risk. It’s like getting burned; it can maybe be equivalent to making mistakes and raising a child, which I have to learn on the way.

When choosing the profession of a circus performer what does one have to keep in mind? What can you wish to the beginners who wish to master fire?
I can wish them to be strong minded. When you see this big fire you just have to touch it. Don’t think about anything. If you drop it – you pick up and you keep going, don’t give up easily. Or if you get burned – it just comes with it. Here’s a wish for those who come on tour. I would recommend that the person let go of everything that they had  before at home and just come here with an open mind and to experience everything and everyone. When you’re doing a show – enjoy it. Learn how to enjoy being on stage. You have to make sure you love what you do. Every day after you exit the stage tell yourself that you love this job. And that’s why you do it every day – put yourself in this risky situation.

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