Transforming into a Na'vi from 'Toruk'

It takes, on average, about an hour to become a Na’vi, though Lydia Harper has done it in 34 minutes.

Because I’m chatty, my transformation took a little longer.

Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk: The First Flight, inspired by James Cameron’s Avatar, is coming to the Wells Fargo Center, running Wednesday through Sunday. Harper and Rob Laqui, performers with the show, visited the Philadelphia Media Network offices one day last month to turn me into a Na’vi.

Step one: Show up at the office wearing no makeup, something your friendly neighborhood beauty columnist has never done. (Two people with whom I ride the train, not quite able to put a finger on what was different, asked me if I was sick.)

Toruk travels, to my surprise, without makeup artists. Each of the (obviously multitalented) performers is responsible for his or her own transformation into a look very carefully crafted for the individual by a makeup artist in Montreal, where Cirque is based.

There are four different blue skin tones, “to account for natural DNA variations among the Na’vi people,” Cirque says. (Mega-brands MAC Cosmetics and Ben Nye created makeup products specifically for the show.)

The artists in Montreal work with the performers to create a custom look for each individual; Harper was recreating hers on me. In addition to the blues, our shared Na’vi uses white, black, yellow, and pink.

“Although they are morphologically similar to humans, the Na’vi have a wider nose and larger eyes,” Cirque says, so “the makeup artists in the costume department needed to ‘remodel’ the artists’ faces.”

To make me look larger and wider (something no woman has ever wanted before), Harper painted thick black lines well under my eyes and on the sides of my nose, shading them out with dark blues. My nose got distinctly wider. My eyebrows disappeared under layers of blue.

I was transformed.

The first few times a performer undergoes a Na’vi metamorphosis, the professionals apply the makeup. By the third time, a pro does one half of the face, and the performer does the other. After that, the performers are on their own, though they’re not sent out into the world empty-handed. They're  given binders with step-by-step photos of their own transformations to act as a reference.

They’re expected to adhere strictly to the makeup artist’s vision, Harper says, and if their looks start to morph or their application changes, they’ll hear about it.

Though we didn’t have a show to perform at the end of my makeup application, Harper and Laqui were up against a similar deadline -- another interview beckoned. After an hour of near-frantic work, Harper was done. They presented me with a pair of souvenir blue ears and let me try on an official Na’vi tail before they rushed off.

And I walked out into the newsroom to startle my coworkers.

Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk: The First Flight, Wednesday through Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center. Tickets $30 to $110 at the Wells Fargo Center box office, wellsfargocenterphilly.com, or by calling 800-298-4200.