insightful in-depth reviews

5, Dec 2015

Cirque du Soliel revisits Avatar

by Steve Cohen
The Cultural Critic

Toruk, the First Flight is the most satisfying production so far by Cirque du Soleil. That’s partly because of its visual effect and mainly because it has the most solid story, being based on the blockbuster movie Avatar.

The multimedia immersive spectacle brings to the stage the world of James Cameron’s film while adding aerialists, acrobats, gymnasts and spectacular lighting and sound effects. Crumbling mountains, cascading waterfalls and swirling rivers are overwhelmingly convincing.

While Cirque du Soleil productions in Las Vegas are on stages, this show occupies a much larger arena. Toruk is presented in a large oval space normally used for hockey games or three-ring circuses. Some of the characters move into the audience area, which I’ve never seen in other Cirque offerings.

The Canada-based company chose Allentown for an out-of-town tryout, moving on to Worcester Massachusetts on its way to an official opening in Montreal December 21.

Toruk is narrated by a shaman-like man speaking clear English, but all the other characters talk and sing in a made-up language. The musical score is rhythmic and pulsating, with intentional repetition in the manner of Philip Glass.

Villain of the tale is the massive flying Toruk—a dragon-like red-and-orange puppet with a 40-foot wingspan operated from the ground by six puppeteers. Trying to unite five tribes to save their world, three youthful characters embark on a journey into the Floating Mountains. In the final scene, they destroy the monster then attach strands of their hair to hanging branches of the Tree of Souls, thus acquiring the tree’s infinite knowledge.

A menagerie of animals populate the tale, resembling the hand-held animals in Julie Taymor’s The Lion King.

Cirque, which sells about 12 million tickets a year— more than all Broadway shows combined— has ten resident shows around the world, including eight in Vegas. This new production looks like it can be one of the most successful of them.

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A somewhat similar article about this event was published in Broad Street Review

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