Behind-the-Scenes at Cirque du Soleil’s TORUK – The First Flight

Direhorses ready to perform

TORUK – First Flight: Direhorses ready to perform

Anyone who’s ever “done theater” gets a certain rush at the thought of going behind the scenes for any production.  A peek behind the curtain reminds us of what we used to do, albeit on a much grander scale than the way we did it.  Heck, even folks who just love to be entertained typically want to know what it took to bring such fabulousness their way.  So when Cirque du Soleil asked if I wanted to take a tour of the TORUK – First Flight production just before opening night, of course I said yes.  And I’m glad I did.  Here’s some tidbits on exactly what goes on in order to bring this production to theatergoers!

  • TORUK comes to town via 27 trucks, with 100 people on tour.  That’s 40 character performers, 40 crew members, and 20 staff.  Wowza!
TORUK backstage 8

The Tetrapede

  • There will be several new animals, including an Austrapede (a cross between an ostrich, a pink flamingo and a dinosaur), a Tetrapede (a cross between a turtle and a shark).  In addition there will be 4 new Pandoran clans in TORUK.  And with the full partnership of James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment, which gives its seal of approval to everything in TORUK before it goes live, you just might be taking a first look at things in this show that may end up in future Avatar sequels.
  • TORUK, the dragon/bird itself, requires six puppeteers who work it “like a reverse marionette”.  The puppet weighs approximately two hundred and forty pounds.



  • Costumes for performers are fitted with BlackTrax software, so lighting can focus on particular character when needed.  Space age technology, baby! Fitting, don’t you think?
  • Lighting for TORUK only takes about two hours to recalibrate for each venue.  Otherwise, there’s very little switching around from place to place.  With such an elaborate production, that’s pretty amazing.
A rack of Na'vi costumes

A rack of Na’vi costumes

  • For the Na’vi, who are over ten feet tall in Avatar, costumers use illusion to give the appearance of taller performers.  Raising the chest area on the costume gives the appearance of an elongated torso.  But just like the film, there are several colors of Na’vi blue, showing the diversity within each of the Pandora Clans. Costumes are made in Montreal, but there are also costume designers that travel with the show.
  • Hair and accessories also help differentiate between the clans, and there’s a quick-change spot just offstage where performers can switch from one tribe to another.

    The quick-change area

    The quick-change area

  • TORUK took about four years to put together the overall look of the production, and in October 2014 the finalized creative team came on board.  A year ago, the techs and artists came together and worked on the show for four months before the first official show hit the stage.
  • TORUK‘s stage design depenes on shadows, lights and colors to really set the mood.  The “regular” set is something the theatergoer won’t see – everything will be in place and look like Pandora from the moment they walk into the arena.
  • It takes about 12 hours to “load in” (unpack and set up) TORUK, and approximately 4 to 5 hours to “load out” (pack up to leave for the next venue), depending on each venue.  Things that aren’t used after intermission in the final show for the venue are on the trucks by the end of intermission.
  • As for the perfomers, “there’s no ‘usual’ here”: there are 40-something seasoned acrobats performing alongside 20-somethings fresh out of circus school.  It all depends on what a particular performer can do, and for how long.  The average age of the TORK performers are somewhere around mid-20s to early 30s.
The set during practice

The set during practice

For Stacey, one of the TORUK cast members, this will be her third Cirque production.  In order to get into character, she and her fellow acrobats focus on keeping their bodies warm – it’s always cold in the venues.  Stretching, warm-ups and conditioning are all tools of the trade, and they keep at it all the time.  (In fact, Stacey took time out of her warm-up to briefly chat with me, which was lovely.)  Performers do their own makeup, and getting it down pat for this show took a couple of months. (If they need help, costuming is there to lend a hand.)  On the road, performers typically hit hotel gyms, area gymnastics clubs, or take it easy if their body could use a break after all the hard work.  Listening to their body is Job #1.

So, that’s a quick peek at what goes on behind the scenes at Cirque du Soleil’s TORUK – First Flight.  Keep watching this space; I’ll have a review of TOURK up tomorrow!

About Denise

Professional nerd. Lover of licorice.
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