Nutshell: TORUK, like the film Avatar that inspired it, is literally and figuratively fantastic. High art meets accessible storytelling in a production that astounds and exhilarates. Catch it if you can. Grade: A
I know. Believe me, I know. When someone typically says “for all ages”, that usually means “you can bring your kids to this”. Or, more often, “this is actually for the kiddies, but adults probably won’t want to kill themselves while watching it.”
In the case of Cirque du Soleil’s newest production, TORUK – The First Flight, “for all ages” is just that. While kids will mainly marvel at the large-scale puppetry and acrobatics (and probably decide then and there that they want to be Na’vi for Halloween), adults will marvel at the overall spectacle. Because, quite simply, TORUK is spectacular.
The story is an easy one to follow; thousands of years before “The Sky People” (humans) arrived on Pandora (see: Avatar), the Na’vi faced another threat. A volcano threatened to erupt, which would destroy the “Tree of Souls”…unless a brave warrior could ride the Toruk and save the tree, and their people. Ralu and Entu of the Omaticaya Clan head out to try to collect five special items, each item bringing an required ability to the rider. But collecting for of those items will require them to visit four other Na’vi clans, and unite them in their purpose. Can Ralu and Entu complete their task? Um, did you see my picture of that awesome Toruk puppet?
Regular Cirque goers will notice that this isn’t their usual type of performance (if anything Cirque does can be categorized as usual.) While the technical aspects of their circus experience is still here – acrobats, puppeteers, performance art – there’s a solid story holding each performance together. This new twist in the way this troupe performs makes the show not only lovely to look at, but compelling. I wanted to know what was going to happen next, what was in store for the three main characters.
As I mentioned in my behind-the-scenes look at TORUK, James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment is very much in the process here. Cameron’s attention to detail shows here, and is a perfect fit with Cirque’s ability to breathe life into the fantastic. The sets are outstanding, and as with any quality set design, the basic setup can be switched around to create different “locations”. Cirque’s work with lighting and photo projection/digital backdrops is on point, and shows yet another way their collaboration with Cameron is a match made in Na’vi heaven.
The overall look of TORUK is a feast for the eyes. I didn’t quite know what that meant – sure, I understood the concept – but nothing ever really made me want to use the term until now. From the Julie Taymore-esque animal puppetry to the amazing acrobatics and gorgeous colors of the set, I often found myself rapidly looking from place to place in order to take it all in. Didn’t want to miss a thing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is a production that begs you to see it a second time, in order to let even more of the spectacle sink in.
The music of TORUK is just as beautiful, and blends perfectly with all that’s going on on stage. A mix of new age, world music, composers Bob & Bill (who have worked on several Cirque productions) created a score that doesn’t overpower the action, but instead brings another beautiful layer to the story.
As for folks who wondered if a Cirque du Soleil production was something that might be too cool/artsy/worldy/different for you? Put that away. I’ve been there; for years I figured I was too cool for the circus, and definitely didn’t want to have anything to do with a production where clown-like performers came into the audience. Because CLOWNS ARE CREEPY. (#ItIsKnown) When it comes to Cirque, I was wrong. Cirque is more of an amazing acrobatic performance with really cool costumes, and TORUK takes it one step further and delivers an enchanting story along with all that Grade-A gymnastics. (I’m still right about regular clowns though. *shudder*)
Why no “I was there” pics during the performance? Pictures can’t do TORUK justice (neither can my poor camera/photog skills), and to be honest I was too busy enjoying myself to try to take a good shot. So I’ll just say this; want to see it? GO. Head out and catch it. Can’t do this weekend? That’d be a shame, but don’t worry; TORUK has all the earmarks of a quality production that will be around for quite a while.
Here’s a breakdown of a few of the basics at the Baltimore performance:
- performers head into the audience?: Yes, though they stay on the stairs rather than interact with audience members.
- merchandise: hard-cover programmes, Na’vi patterned hoodies and ear-headbands are the coolest, but they have tshirts and other typical tour merch.
- food in the theater?: Absolutely; we had beer and fries, but soon lost interest in both as the spectacle of the show unfolded. But if you’re running late you don’t have to worry about starving.
- intermission: Yes – plenty of time to stretch your legs, grab merch if you’re down with that, or just take in the set with the lights up.
- parking: Plentiful. Even though we were running late, finding a spot thisclose to the Arena was a cinch.
[NOTE: I was given free tickets in exchange for an honest review. I received nothing else. Not even a Viperwolf pup. Probably for the best; I don’t know what I’d feed one.]