CIRQUE DU SOLEIL’S TORUK - THE FIRST FLIGHT Review
What’s interesting about Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk -The First Flight is its adaptation of elements of James Cameron’s 2009 special FX big screen extravaganza Avatar to a live stage performance. Cameron’s sci fi tour-de-force won Best Cinematography, Art Direction and Visual Effects Academy Awards and was nominated in six other categories, including Best Picture and Best Director.
In particular, set and props designer Carl Fillion, sound designer Jacques Boucher and lighting designer Alain Lortie do a sometimes spectacular job in rendering the otherworldly (as opposed to outer space per se) ambiance of Pandora and beyond. The large troupe of performers depicting the Na’vi and members of various clans are clad in tight fitting blue body suits with long tails designed by costume and makeup designer Kym Barrett that are a bit on the kitschy side, reminding me a bit of Bert Lahr in full Cowardly Lion drag in that other unearthly classic, The Wizard of Oz.
Patrick Martel’s puppetry depicting “Viperwolves” - oversized snarling critters that are a cross between the terrifying dogs in Herman Melville’s Galapagos-set Los Encantados and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles - is well done. These creepy creatures put me in mind of the stage production of War Horse, which Steven Spielberg adapted in his 2011 film version featuring an actual steed.
A la Joseph Campbell and countless Greek myths, the spectacle’s plot revolves around three young members of the Omatikaya clan who embark on a perilous quest. When a natural disaster threatens to destroy the Tree of Souls (beautifully illumined and wrought by lighting designer Alain Lortie), the trio embarks on a mystical journey to, as press notes state, “the Floating Mountains to find the mighty red and orange predator that rules the Pandoran sky… to ride Toruk for the first time and save the Na’vi from a terrible fate.” Will the threesome surpass all of the obstacles and succeed in their odyssey? The fearsome winged Toruk is interestingly rendered as it flies around the arena space (with a little help from its human handlers below).
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Toruk -The First Flight’s music composed by Bob & Bill (as they are credited) is good, as is the singing, but nothing that will knock-your-socks-off. As directed by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, this Avatar-palooza knockoff is notable for its sometimes sensational stagecraft. Earthquakes, a drum circle, floods and more are feasts for the eyes and ears, along with sometimes dazzling light shows. Translating from the medium of the screen to the live stage is tricky but overall it’s executed well, creating optically opulent realms of enchantment suitable for the whole family to enjoy together.
However, what did not seem to make the transition from Cameron’s Avatar to Toruk is the movie’s underlying theme of indigenous beings resisting colonialism. Given the current tribal uprising against the Dakota Access Pipeline and fossil fuel, this is a sorry omission at a time when such a message was especially pertinent.
In addition, the hallmark of this kinetic company - Cirque’s renowned acrobatics - is pretty lackluster, mundane and earthbound (except for that flying Toruk) here. There is few jaw-dropping landings and especially aerial athletics and death-defying derring-do in Toruk to astound buyers of those heftily-priced tickets, as there were in other Cirque shows, such as Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities and The BeatlesLOVE, which were better, featuring far more far out, ambitious, take-your-breath-away gymnastics.
Cirque du Soleil’s TORUK – The First Flight is performing at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario from November 2‐6 and at Staples Center in Los Angeles from November 11‐13. For more info see: www.cirquedusoleil.com/toruk.