Cirque Du Soleil’s Hottest Act By Far
By Chad Pata
One of the adages we all learned as children is don’t play with fire. For centuries, when children wanted to threaten their parents they would say they were going to run off with the circus.
Somehow, Micah Naruo defied the first to accomplish the second - and his mother couldn’t be happier.
“I am just so proud to have a boy from Hawaii in the show,” says Lyn Naruo of her son, who is returning home as part of Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria. “As a kid he was a pyromaniac. He was always playing with matches, lighting the fireplace. He was the only one who would light our fireplace, and then he saw a friend doing the fire knife and he said, ‘I want to do that.’ Ever since then he has been obsessed with it.”
While most moms would have discouraged such behavior, Naruo fostered it by sending him, at age 13, to Gloria Snyder of Hui ‘o Kamalei, where he learned the art of fire knife, eventually representing Roosevelt High School in the annual world championships at Polynesian Cultural Center.
“I always had a fascination with fire. Growing up here in Hawaii we always saw it in luau,” says Naruo, “and I just wanted to spin it, the vili, the two-hand spin with fire, so I went to classes. Then it became a job and now a career.”
When he was still in high school he was spotted at the PCC competition by scouts for Cirque du Soleil who were looking to fill a role in their enormously popular Alegria show.
“They asked me if I would like to tour the world and do fire knife, but I had no idea what Cirque du Soleil was - it’s French, and I didn’t even know it meant ‘Circus of the Sun,’” says Naruo, who instead went on to college in Thousand Oaks to study exercise science and sports medicine after graduating from Roosevelt in 2002.
Despite passing on the opportunity, Naruo continued to perform, working as a freelancer at Hawaiian club parties, luaus and corporate functions in Vegas. He honed his craft while he was earning his degree, eventually opening up an opportunity to work in Hong Kong Disney as a cast member in its production of The Lion King.
Upon graduation, he resubmitted his resume to Cirque and, as fate would have it, there was a slot open. There are only two fire knife performers in the show, and in March of 2009 he joined the cast of Alegria in Dubai. Since then he has spent the last 19 months touring Canada and the U.S. performing fire knife to sold-out audiences.
“Life on tour is great. It is such an enriching experience with so many different cultures in our show,” says Naruo, who is one of only three Americans in the cast of 55. “It’s making me much more well-rounded. We all go to the mall together, and the comments they make about things that I never really thought of, I see things from a new perspective.”
For those unfamiliar with Cirque du Soleil, it is a highly stylized modern version of the circus, blending dancing grace with feats of strength and acts of courage, such as Naruo performs. The shows are known for their outlandish costuming, incredible musical orchestration and jaw-dropping acrobatics.
Originally formed 25 years ago by Guy Laliberte, who came up with the name while enjoying a Hawaiian sunset, they have now performed for more than 100 million spectators in 250 cities around the world. There are several manifestations of the show, the last to come to Honolulu was Saltimbanco in 2008, which drew more than 35,000 local residents during its run.
Alegria opens Oct. 15 at Blaisdell Arena, and when Naruo takes the stage for the first time before a local crowd he admits he will have a few butterflies - but that is standard for him even after a year and a half performing.
“I always feel a little nervous before I go onstage because when I don’t feel nervous something can go wrong, and I have to always be on my toes,” says Naruo. “The hardest part of this job, aside from makeup, is the mental stress to always pull yourself together for those five minutes and to be completely aware of everything around you.”
Despite the vast experience he has gained, actual performance time on the big stage is limited. While he spends many hours practicing, the company only allows him 15 minutes a week on stage with fire to fine tune the act between himself and his partner Maui Sumeo of Colorado.
To keep sharp, they watch a lot of video to add moves to their repertoire, and Nauru does a lot of running and the Insanity work-out to keep his body fitting into Cirque’s leather take on the traditional Samoan garb.
Due to the esoteric nature of the fire knife performance, Naruo and Sumeo have artistic freedom that is not afforded to most cast members.
“The creative ideas of the act are about 50/50,” says Naruo, who performed at Germaine’s Luau in his younger days. “There are musical cues that we have to finish on, but in between we create what we want and we present it to the artistic director, and if he thinks something might be better, then we can switch things around. For our act, it is very specific to our decisions because we are the experts at it, where the trampoline act there are lots of coaches with lots of ideas. We are our own coach.”
Traveling the world and practicing his art are definitely dreams for Naruo, but he understands that it is not a lifestyle he can maintain forever.
“For now, I’m single, I’ve got no reason to stop touring,” says Naruo, who eventually would like to find a resident show in Vegas where he could settle down and start a family. “Now, if I get injured, maybe, but I try to take care of myself and to enjoy this while it lasts, but I also can see how it can get tiring.
“We are living out of a suitcase. This is our life. It’s a lifestyle choice; it’s different. When I come home I like to wash my own clothes, wash the dishes just to feel normal. One time I asked the hotel maid if I could vacuum my room just so I could feel normal again.”
He has two weeks’ vacation before the show starts and he is spending it here local style, showing his new friends from Russia and Mongolia the ways of the Islands. No matter all the sights and experiences he has had on the road, there is no doubt where his heart resides.
“When I’m gone I miss the land the most, the mountains, the beach and the way people are,” says Naruo. “In some cities I can feel it. Hawaii is not the only friendly place, there are places where they feel pretty cool. But there is not that Island feeling.”
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