The day Chen Yi Xi turned blue in the name of work

Chen Yi Xi gets under the Na’vi’s skin as he goes behind-the-scenes of TORUK – The First Flight, plus we learned how he almost didn’t become an actor

The day Chen Yi Xi turned blue in the name of work
The day Chen Yi Xi turned blue in the name of work
28 May 2018

The day Chen Yi Xi turned blue in the name of work

It’s May 23, we’re one day away from the opening night of TORUK – The First Flight and we’re feeling a tad guilty because for this assignment we’ll be surprising a birthday boy with a teruk (Malay for extreme) task in the name of work. We are going to turn Chen Yi Xi into a Na’vi (complete with blue face paint, head gear et al) hours before his birthday party.

All these is made possible with the help of Janie Mallet, the publicist for the entire tour (she also brought us around the backstage area back in Sanya, China) and Jessica Ward, an acrobat who has been with the show since it began its tour.

First off, we turned the birthday boy from human to Na’vi via a complicated process that took 40 minutes which includes multiple layers in order for the makeup to stay on for the performers throughout the two-hour show. Lucky for Yi Xi, Jessica, who’s one of the fastest hands on deck, was in-charge of his ‘transformation.’

After his makeup was complete, the first thing Yi Xi said was, “Wow, I can’t move my face!” Adding on the headpiece, which is typically custom-made for each performer (sorry Yi Xi, we couldn’t commission one for you in time), and his transformation was complete.

“Right now, I’m feeling really warm and I don’t know how they can actually perform in this!” the 27-year-old declared, but gamely started our backstage tour to see what a typical day is like for all the TORUK performers.

(Continued on next slide: The one and only thing performers are banned from having before a show)

The one and only thing performers are banned from having before a show
The one and only thing performers are banned from having before a show
28 May 2018

The one and only thing performers are banned from having before a show

The dining area was our first pit stop. You’ll be surprised to know that the performers are free to eat whatever they want. We spotted carbs - lots of carbs, chicken breast and a mountain of vegetables at the time. They also had a dessert table, and we were told that the cast and crew had just polished off a huge serving of laksa just before we entered the room.

“There’s nothing that we can or can’t eat and most of it is us moderating our own diets, but we do have a nutritionist that we can work with in case we have any concerns,” Jessica shared.

Yi Xi then probed further, asking if there was anything they couldn’t eat before a show, such as desserts or alcohol. Jessica, who has a bit of a sweet tooth, grinned that sugary food have no effect on their performance (and thank goodness for that), but alcohol is the one big no-no that they have to stay away from before a show.

The reason why the acrobats can eat anything? “We burn it off during practice and during the show, anyway,” she smiled. Point taken.

(Continued on next slide: The parallels between becoming an acrobat and actor)

The parallels between becoming an acrobat and actor
The parallels between becoming an acrobat and actor
28 May 2018

The parallels between becoming an acrobat and actor

We then visited the gym (they have a mobile gym that goes wherever the show goes) and warm-up room, Yi Xi tells us about his creaky joints that we’re sure aren’t as bad as he thinks. He does a couple of pull-ups a la a practicing acrobat but gets away without having to actually do the performance routine.

Then, it was time for us to head into the ring, where all the magic happens during every show. There, Jessica practiced with some of her colleagues before joining us again. During the course of the entire backstage tour, there was one point which was constantly repeated: most of the acrobats’ daily lives, save for their practice slots on the floor, are self-regulated, and there’s no ‘discipline master’ to dictate what they can or cannot do.

“I think it takes an amazing amount of discipline and self-control to be where they are,” Yi Xi remarked, visibly entranced by Jessica’s short-but-amazing routine. “Just keeping this headpiece and makeup on alone is a challenge in itself, and they put on their own makeup every single night and put on their show as though they were born in this skin; it’s unbelievable.” We know.

Afterwards, when Yi Xi and Jessica were having a chat while he was removing his makeup – which took all of 15 minutes, a surprisingly short time, considering how much makeup he had on – Jessica shared that every spot in the show was incredibly precious, because there can be up to 500 people vying for a single spot.

(Continued on next slide: How Yi Xi almost didn’t join showbiz)

How Yi Xi almost didn’t join showbiz
How Yi Xi almost didn’t join showbiz
28 May 2018

How Yi Xi almost didn’t join showbiz

“If you think about it this way, for every one person’s whose dreams are realised, you have 499 whose dreams get crushed. It really reminded me about how difficult it is to step into showbiz in Singapore,” Yi Xi mused. “I remember when I was younger, I would go to the set with my parents, and I recall there being part-time actors who would tell me that they wanted to become a full-time actor, but after some time, they’d tell me while crying that they didn’t make it.”

After witnessing this at a young age, Yi Xi spent a long time deliberating about whether or not he wanted to become an actor in this cutthroat industry, and eventually, he took the leap of faith. As they say, the rest of it is history.

With the day coming to a close, we had to also pull a surprise of our own – a Na’vi themed birthday cake for Yi Xi, who was not just celebrating his birthday, but also the day he turned into a Na’vi (even if it was just that day). Fun fact: It was also his first time having a full face of coloured makeup on his face.

Well, we say better late than never. Happy birthday, Yi Xi!

Click on for more pictures of our behind-the-scenes tour at TORUK – The First Flight!

Yi Xi getting all made up
Yi Xi getting all made up
28 May 2018

Yi Xi getting all made up

We were told that performers take an average of an hour to put on their makeup, but only 10 minutes to remove all that blue with a specially-formulated remover.

Yi Xi trying out one of the props they use in the show, which looks like a giant flower petal
Yi Xi trying out one of the props they use in the show, which looks like a giant flower petal
28 May 2018

Yi Xi trying out one of the props they use in the show, which looks like a giant flower petal

One of the highlights of the show, Yi Xi tried his hand at moving it about, which led Jessica to say that he was "really good, especially for his first time". 

Jessica with the flower petal during a performance
Jessica with the flower petal during a performance
28 May 2018

Jessica with the flower petal during a performance

Yes, she's in mid-air.

Janie shows us the outfits that the performers wear
Janie shows us the outfits that the performers wear
28 May 2018

Janie shows us the outfits that the performers wear

Did you know that there is a team of wardrobe staff that check and mend the outfits on a daily basis? Everything is made by hand, and constantly checked to ensure that they are in tip-top condition.

One more shot of the birthday boy with his mini-me
One more shot of the birthday boy with his mini-me
28 May 2018

One more shot of the birthday boy with his mini-me

Catch TORUK – The First Flight by Cirque du Soleil runs from now to June 3 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Tickets priced at S$188, S$158, S$128 and S$98 (excluding booking fee) are now available on SportsHubTix.

WATCH: See how Chen Yi Xi takes his first flight with Toruk

Related:
TORUK, The Secret, Mulan, and other stage adaptations we love
How TORUK might give you a sneak peek at ‘Avatar 2’

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