To say that Cirque du Soliel’s latest show Toruk: The First Flight isn’t amazing is not being fair to the production. It’s not overall amazing because the story is simultaneously too boring yet too complicated to follow (seriously, it’s a simple storyline but I still kept asking my husband..”wait, did they get that sacred object? When? Wait…Where are they now?”), but let’s be honest, Toruk: The First Flight, like it’s film inspiration, Avatar, is highly ambitious and takes on a new level of spectacle, intricacy and precision which are, frankly, amazing.
Toruk: The First Flight is set in Pandora, the fantabulous world we met in James Cameron’s groundbreaking 2009 film. The plot here borrows heavily from the film, but is focussed on the Na’vi people who are trying to save the tree of souls. We follow three characters on a quest to find 5 sacred objects which will help them tame the Toruk, a fierce bird-like predator, who will help them save the tree of souls (simple, right?). To help us (the audience) understand the journey, we have a Na’vi narrator who informs what is happening and when. Only it’s not simple. The story plays second-fiddle to the spectacle of the show so at times it’s muddled, other times it’s uninteresting; the story is not why you should see the show.
The creation of this version of Pandora is just as incredible at the original. Using lights, projections, video, music and people, the multi-foliaged, dream-like world of Pandora is alive and perpetually changing. The precision with which the projections sync with the music and the performers are in sync with each other, is incredible – the level of detail that must have gone into rehearsals would have been exhausting. The set is riddled with nooks and crannies where plants and smoke erupt to create a new atmosphere, and the performers charged with ensuring the changes happen are swift and the execution is flawless. The puppets and costumes are beautiful and ingenius.
All of this is why you should see the show.
Un/fortunately the world has exceedingly high expectations of Cirque. Our minds have been blown too often by their productions, so when we show up we want the same inspiring acrobatic feats and rich storytelling we’re accustomed to. If one of those is weak, the strength of the other makes up for it. For me, during Taruk, my awe was inspired by the technical wizardry and the precise coordination of the performers – incredible in it’s own right and well up to Cirque standards…just not the death-defying antics and/or humanity-express-through-story expected, so, unfair or not, I left feeling a bit disappointed.
But BIG high-fives to the production team for dreaming up this technical mastery.
Photo: Errisson Lawrence Costumes: Kym Barrett ¬© 2015 Cirque du Soleil