Cirque du Soleil has been entertaining audiences with its magical, whimsical, and gravity-defying aesthetic since its province-wide tour throughout Quebec in 1984. More than 30 years later, the company continues to push boundaries, having staged unique collaborations such as The Beatles: LOVE and Michael Jackson ONE. Always on the lookout for new (or rehashed, as the case may be) source material, its latest show, TORUK – The First Flight, is based on James Cameron’s Academy Award-winning film AVATAR.
Touring arenas throughout the world, TORUK is big in every sense of the word, but bigger isn’t always better. Where TORUK succeeds is in its epic spectacle. A mash-up of Land of the Lost and The Lion King, the plot loosely follows what happens when an earthquake rocks Pandora and threatens to destroy the sacred Tree of Souls. Orphans Ralu and Entu (along with Tsyal, whom they meet along the way) head on an Into the Woods journey to gather sacred objects and fulfill the prophecy of riding the predatory Toruk and, in turn, save the fate of the Na’vi species.
The production is a collaboration between Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, credited as the show’s writers, director, and multimedia directors. That’s a lot of hats to wear, and although TORUK soars when it comes to visual impact—particularly the spectacular video projects, which span nearly 20,000 square feet (five times larger than a standard IMAX screen).
“Set changes, which sometimes occur in the wink of an eye, are not mechanical, but optical,” says Michel. “It’s the language of film applied to the performing arts,” adds Victor. “And we alternate between large-scale, jaw-dropping effects and more intimate moments that evoke emotion.”
It’s hard to focus the action in the 18,000-seat Barclays Center. The massive space swallows the story’s emotional journey, but you’ll likely be surrounded by kids mesmerized by the spectacle. The Na’vi species appear faithfully interpreted from Cameron’s film by costume and make-up designer Kym Barrett, but the dozens of blue unitards and face paint quickly blend together and all hope is lost of identifying one contorting gymnast from another.
Expect to see Cirque’s usual acrobatics, along with 18 kites that add new dimension to its repertoire. A group of 12 flyers perform traction kiting and in one particular scene, the protagonists leap through the tethered constructions much to the audience’s delight.
Composers and musical directors Bob & Bill have created a score inspired by the film, and while their attempt to create sounds for the various clans may go unnoticed by some, a female oracle belts out some riffs that would have The Lion King’s Rafiki shaking in her pelt.
TORUK – The First Flight might not be everyone’s Cirque cup of tea, but if you’re a fantasy fanatic and want to see one of the company’s biggest and boldest endeavors to date, you may want to climb on board.
TORUK – The First Flight
Barclays Center, Brooklyn
Through September 11
Prudential Center, Newark
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him online at @roodeloo.