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Meet the man who trains the Cirque du Soleil acrobats

Cirque du Soleil acrobats are unique human beings blessed with extraordinary flexibility, strength and discipline, but they all had to go through the training to get to perform with Cirque du Soleil. Perhaps the most celebrated and toughest stage for an acrobat, Cirque du Soleil is also tough behind the scenes. Just ask their head coach Michael Ocampo.

Michael is a first generation Filipino-Canadian born in Ontario. He’s been working with Cirque du Soleil since 1993. He started doing gymnastics at age 6, did it competitively, and then eventually joined Cirque du Soleil as an artist. Now, he’s the head coach and a unique one at that — not all coaches were once artists, not all of them can do the stunts, but he can. GIST interviewed recently sat down with Ocampo for an interview and here’s what he shared about his role in Cirque du Soleil Toruk — The First Flight.

Tell us about your job at Cirque du Soleil.

MICHAEL OCAMPO: My title is head coach of the tour. It’s our job is to oversee the acrobatics that go into the show on a daily basis.

Does being a coach also mean you can do all the stunts yourself? I was an artist for 10 years in Cirque du Soleil, but not all of the coaches have been artists on the show.

Are there any acrobatic performances unique to Toruk? Normally, the Cirque du Soleil show is created around the acrobatics. That’s not the case for this show. It’s based on the James Cameron film Avatar, and then the acrobatics were created for the story. But we do still have very interesting rope numbers, aerial silk, a balancing structure, which is kind of unique. We have some acrobatics on a wall near the back of the stage, and some interesting things with the boomerang performer, and very large puppets. The size of our puppets will be unique to Toruk.

It’s also one of the more grander productions in terms of scale. Toruk is one of the bigger shows. The amount of stage that we use — we use the entire arena floor. We have 40 projectors, so it’s really about the visual.

So how do you work with the artists? Are you still doing training now, this close to the show? I work very closely with our performance medicine team. We work on strength training programs that might be needed. On a weekly basis, having the training. There’ll be a few days of training before we run the show.

You work with them individually, but you also teach them to communicate right? Yes. The bone structure, for example, is a balancing structure. They have to work as a team. They have to have skills individually, but the teamwork is definitely part of the training process.

Training sounds tough. It’s a process, but most of them are really used to it! They all come from the world of acrobatics so they’re used to training.

What would you tell a kid who watches the show and ends up wanting to be in it someday? It (acrobatics) is something that is getting to be more well known, there are even circus schools around the world. If they’re already in an acrobatic sport, they can just continue with that. After their competitive careers are finished (because that’s where most of us come from), that’s when they can audition to be cast for Cirque du Soleil.

Is an age cut-off to becoming an acrobat? I’m tempted to say no. I mean yes, if you wanted to be a contortionist and you’re already 35, you’re probably not gonna be a great contortionist! But there are many things you could do that you can start learning at 3 or 4. I started gymnastics when I was 6, and that’s pretty common for people who take gymnastics to a really high level. It all depends on your natural talent and what’s available to you in regards to training. If you want to become a juggler, you don’t have to start when you’re super young. If you want to go into clowning, which is a serious performance act, you don’t have to start very young either.

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TORUK – The First Flight will be presented at The Mall of Asia Arena from June 23. Public on-sale is now ongoing and tickets can be purchased at and

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