Photo – Errisson Lawrence
The last Cirque du Soleil performance I attended was 2013’s brilliant Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour – a punchy, crotch-grabbing paean to the late pop star that had the audience (literally) on their feet. Before that, I was lucky enough to catch the Bellagio-based O, a Las Vegas mainstay that continues to dazzle punters nearly 20 years on from opening night. The bar was set high.
TORUK – The First Flight delivers. And some. That being said, while it may be visually spectacular and immensely enjoyable, TORUK lacks some of the elements that are so beloved by fans of the iconic Montreal-based entertainment company (myself included). Rather than thrilling us with death-defying stunts and jelly-spined contortionists (although there’s some of that thrown in, and it’s as mind-bending as always), the brains behind TORUK have moved in a different direction.
Based on the wildly successful 2009 film Avatar, TORUK transports us to the mythical Pandora, a land inhabited by the blue-hued Na’vi people. Rather than rehashing the original storyline, co-writers/directors Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon have set TORUK thousands of years before the events depicted in the film, hurling us into the epicentre of a natural catastrophe that threatens Pandora and its people.
There’s so much to like about this production which incorporates, amongst other things, Patrick Martel’s innovative, large-scale puppets, stunning set design (for this we have Carl Fillion to thank), and some truly state-of-the-art effects. Multimedia projections capture the ever-shifting Pandoran landscape and provide the audience with a truly immersive experience. When an earthquake rocks Pandora early on in the show, smoke rises from the shifting ground and the whole room seems to tremble. In a later, more idyllic scene, flowers bloom from the lush earth, fronds sway in the breeze, and a boat sails by down a winding river, caught in the current. Alongside this tableau, various Na’vi run and play as the shadows of large flocks of birds fly overhead, spilling over the traditional boundaries of the stage and out, into the audience.
The Na’vi people have been skilfully rendered by talented costume and makeup designer, Kym Barrett, whose outfits (designed to look as though they are handmade by the inhabitants of Pandora), are comprised of materials as diverse as bones, horsehair, beads, loofah sponges, and crinoline. A startling 115 outfits in total grace the stage, each of them impressive in their intricacy and incorporation of found objects. The makeup is similarly detailed, with layers of cloth used to build up and remodel the performer’s faces, evoking the slightly unearthly look of the Na’vi race.
While Cirque du Soleil often builds its productions loosely around a theme, TORUK relies heavily on an actual storyline (one of the four chief characters is named The Storyteller). Due to this narrative turn, TORUK sometimes feels slightly hemmed in, unable to incorporate some of its more spectacular “big top” elements (those gasp-inducing circus feats that are generally part and parcel of a Cirque du Soleil show). This isn’t a big deal for me with more than enough excitement to be found elsewhere, but it may leave some fans a little cold. Still, you can’t please everybody, and if you come in with an open mind, it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed. Like pretty much everything else that Cirque du Soleil touches, TORUK is gold.
Cirque du Soleil presents
TORUK – The First Flight
Written and Directed Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon
Venue: Perth Arena WA
Dates: 24 Nov – 3 Dec 2017
Tickets: $76 – $199