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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Review: Toruk — The First Flight

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2017 at 5:45 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ERRISSON LAWRENCE COSTUMES: KYM BARRETT  © 2015 CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
  • Photo by Errisson Lawrence Costumes: Kym Barrett © 2015 Cirque du Soleil


Toruk — The First Flight features all the high-flying feats one would expect of a Cirque du Soleil show: Troupe members climb almost to the set’s rafters and spin on ropes and ribbons. Five acrobats in skin-tight blue outfits do a synchronized routine of handstands and contortions on a giant spinning see-saw apparatus designed to look like a dinosaur’s skeletal spine. But some of the most entertaining scenes involve more frenzied action by the entire company as Toruk’s story of global cataclysm fills the arena floor at Smoothie King Center. That drama is part of the point of the modern circus company’s collaboration with James Cameron, creator of the $2.9 billion-grossing 2009 film Avatar.

Toruk is a prequel to Avatar, taking place thousands of years earlier, and before humans arrive on the distant moon Pandora. There the blue skinned Na’vi people live in various tribal groups. Following a vision of apocalypse, two young Na’vi hunters, Ralu and Entu, set out to save the threatened Tree of Souls, upon which they all depend for life. Their quest takes them around the moon, where they must enlist the aid of other Na’vi clans.

Cirque du Soleil typically creates its own exotic and mystical universes. Here it uses Cameron’s, and Toruk has a more prominent storyline than most Cirque shows. It introduced a narrator to help tell the story, but it often seems that having the characters speak to each other in English instead of the invented Na’vi language would make dramatic scenes more accessible. The story’s hero quest is easy to grasp but the show might have benefited from a few plot twists. Still, it works as a framework to allow the modern circus troupe to highlight physical feats.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JESSE FAATZ COSTUMES: KYM BARRETT  © 2015 CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
  • Photo by Jesse Faatz Costumes: Kym Barrett © 2015 Cirque du Soleil

The show features a lot of aerial work on rope loops and ribbons as well as gymnastic-style tumbling. The arena floor has a central platform that rises and lowers, and some action happens on gear that descends from the rafters. Troupe members also fly giant kites and billowing fans, control huge puppets and beat on drums hanging from the rafters.

Toruk was designed as an arena show, and the action uses the entire floor space. One end of the arena is cordoned off by a massive backdrop and there are two giant French door-like pieces that open and close. Video projections help define the set, and at times the entire performance space looks like a burning red lava flow, or a seascape with crashing waves or a lush green jungle with Na’vi people navigating a winding river by boat.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JESSE FAATZ COSTUMES: KYM BARRETT  © 2015 CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
  • Photo by Jesse Faatz Costumes: Kym Barrett © 2015 Cirque du Soleil
Some scenes are cinematic in scope. Cirque uses its entire cast in a busy battle scene, as legions of blue-skinned Na’vi tribesmen battle with long spears. In another intense scene, many acrobats throw themselves at a mountainside, frantically scaling its three-stories. One Na’vi ritual seems more like an explosively colorful and busy closing ceremony at the Olympics. Cirque’s directors made full use of the space and talents of the cast in scenes that justify the arena scale of the show.

Toruk also embraces technology, inviting audiences to download a free app that allows participation and further exploration of the imagined world of Pandora. The app prompts audience members when to act, though it's not necessary to follow or enjoy the show. It also sends a reminder about the Toruk merchandise kiosk.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ERRISSON LAWRENCE COSTUMES: KYM BARRETT  © 2015 CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
  • Photo by Errisson Lawrence Costumes: Kym Barrett © 2015 Cirque du Soleil

The acrobatic work is vigorous and flawless. Costumes are bright and detailed. The sets are versatile enough to suit the rapidly changing settings. The story is workable, though the polish and grandiosity in some areas demand that it be epic, and it doesn't have that kind of dramatic punch. It’s a step in a new direction for Cirque du Soleil, but also one that sheds some of the alluring mystery of other shows.

Tour — The First Flight
7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, Feb. 2-3
4 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4
1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5
Smoothie King Center, 1501 Dave Dixon Drive, (504) 587-3663

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