Writer/Director: Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon
Reviewer: Alisha McCracken
Toruk – The First Flight, written and directed by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon and inspired by James Cameron’s Avatar, is the latest Cirque du Soleil show to hit the stages of the UK. It tells the story of a natural disaster threatening to destroy the sacred Tree of Souls, and as such threatens the extinction of the people of Pandora, the Na’vi.
In a first for Cirque Du Soleil, the story is narrated, in English, by a mysterious Na’vi storyteller and is set thousands of years before the events of Avatar. It stays true to the fundamental elements of James Cameron’s creation, showing the powerful symbiotic relationship the Na’vi have with nature, but using artistic licence creates a truly unique journey through Pandora.
The story follows the journey of Ralu and Entu, two boys on the brink of adulthood, from the Omaticaya clan, as they set out to search for Toruk, the predator that rules the Pandoran sky, after learning that this will help them save the Tree of Life. On their journey they are joined by Tsyal, a young lady from the Tawkami clan who believes their story and wants to help save the Na’vi. Together they journey up the Floating Mountains of Pandora where the prophecy is fulfilled when a pure soul rises to become the first to ride Toruk and save the Na’vi from a fatal disaster.
Unlike some of the other Cirque Du Soleil shows where the storyline can be thin and difficult to follow, Toruk – The First Flight places a big emphasis on storytelling with an immersive and rich plot. The big emphasis on storytelling and plot, however, does mean that Torukis missing some of that circus factor which people have come to expect with Cirque Du Soleil shows. The balance here is just not quite right. The second act, in particular, lacks a lot of the circus performances instead focusing on storytelling and staging. The story also drags in places and there are too many breaks for dialogue in the Na’vi language, as the storyteller is the only performer who speaks in English.
That being said there are many gravity-defying performances, contortions, and stunts throughout the show, all perfectly timed with the very fitting music and sounds of Composers and Musical Directors Bob & Bill, and sound director Jacques Boucher. There is a large focus on aerial work throughout the show which is performed beautifully, but another section which stands out is a stunning group acrobatic routine on a rotating skeleton. Tuan Le et Tan Loc’s choreography and Germain Guillemot’s acrobatic designs are truly stunning and awe-inspiring, often at times having the audience at the edge of their seats.
A few times throughout the show it felt like there was too much happening on stage, and we didn’t know where to look. However, during these moments wherever you look you will see performers showcasing their skills, from contortions to stunts making Toruk a true spectacle from every angle.
The show boasts a stunning and dynamic set, designed by Carl Fillion, which is truly immersive with life growing and dying as the landscape changes before our eyes. With the help of lighting and projections the vibrant plant filled landscape transforms into the floating mountains, the ocean, the forest floor, and a river fit to carry a canoe housing our three main characters. The land of Pandora is further brought to life by the presence of many weird and wonderful creatures in the form of kites and impressive puppeteering, bringing to life the puppet designs of Patrick Martel.
As an aside the show does tell the audience to download their interactive app “Toruk – The First Flight”. The app was an interesting addition to the show and it did add some stunning atmosphere as it brought the lighting effects out among the audience, with flashing colours from phones all around the arena. However, at least for this reviewer, the app didn’t always pop up with the notification that it was time to open it and as such myself and others around me were consistently checking phones for the right time to open the app which lead to some distraction from the show. If you can’t get the app to work, don’t fret, as it really is just a small addition to the show, and the main focus should remain on the stage.
Overall, Toruk – The First Flight is a beautiful and encapsulating show, who’s stunning set and performers more than make up for the show’s shortcomings. For fans of Avatar and Cirque Du Soleil alike, this show is not to be missed.
Runs until 23 June 2019 and London (26 – 30 June)| Image: Matt Beard