Cirque du Soleil: Toruk – the First Flight: Show Review
As my five-year-old daughter and I walked to our seats at Barclay’s Center on Wednesday, September 7 to see the Cirque du Soleil’s latest spectacle, Toruk – the First Flight, we felt as though we were transported to another world. Blue light blanketed the arena stage, which was transformed into a hilly landscape with an elevated structure at its core, accented by blinking fireflies pulsing to slow electronic music.
Directed by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, Toruk is inspired by the James Cameron movie Avatar, and takes place on a faraway moon called Pandora. The initial mood upon entering the arena set the stage for an imaginative, multimedia display that included flying dragon and dinosaur puppets, visual projections and innovative stagecraft, accompanied by cinematic music, drumming and chanting.
However, although the surface of the show was dazzling, the signature acrobatics of the Cirque du Soleil performers played a secondary role. Yes, there were gravity-defying spins and dips from suspended ropes, handstands and flips, but performers were scattered throughout the arena, making it difficult to concentrate on any one area or feat.
Toruk takes place thousands of years before the events in the movie Avatar, before any humans arrived. The sacred Tree of Souls is in danger of being destroyed and eliminating life on Pandora. Ralu and Entu, two warriors-to-be, decide to take matters into their own hands to save their species, and seek out the mighty destructive orange predator Toruk in the Floating Mountains.
The tale is narrated by a “Na’vi” storyteller and populated by characters who seem more like stereotypical tribal and indigenous peoples than other-worldly beings. The narrator advocates the interconnectedness of life, but the delivery of the message seems rather cliched. Characters covered in body paint grunt and hold spears, and pass trials by earning amulets to become hunters for their people. The importance of the web of life is more effectively conveyed in Disney productions such as The Lion King.
Despite the special effects and artistry of this production, without a compelling story and characters to closely connect with, Toruk did not consistently attract my attention or that of my daughter. During the show, we utilized a specially designed app on my smartphone, which gave us the opportunity to interact with the show via colors and lights and from different perspectives, but for some reason it did not work perfectly on my phone, and was more of a temporary distraction.
Cirque du Soleil has been so successful (Toruk is its 37th production since 1984), not only because of its lavish productions and world-class performers, but also because of its ability to reinvent itself. There is always another story, another film or another musical palette from which to paint another production. While Toruk may not appeal to every taste, nor offer the most compelling narrative, it temporarily transports and stuns by challenging the senses and the imagination.
Toruk just finished its run at Barclays Center, where it was performed from September 7-11. You can catch Toruk again at the Prudential Center on Friday, September 17 and Saturday, September 18. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/toruk. You can follow the show on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/torukthefirstflight or on Twitter with #TORUK.
Since its inception, Cirque du Soleil has delighted more than 155 million spectators in more than 300 cities on six continents. Cirque du Soleil has close to 4,000 employees, including 1,300 performing artists from close to 50 different countries.
Originally published in Motherhood Later than Sooner.