15 years ago, my first Cirque du Soleil experience (Mystere) transformed me instantly into a lifelong fan. Since then I’ve made it a priority to attend any Cirque show that travels through town. Cirque du Soleil is back in Vancouver this week, this time with an exciting arena performance at the Pacific Coliseum.
TORUK – The First Flight is a live immersive multimedia spectacle set in the breathtaking world of James Cameron’s Avatar. With its emphasis on storytelling and visual pageantry, this is a different kind of Cirque du Soleil experience.
Narrated by a “Na’vi Storyteller” and populated by unforgettable characters, TORUK – The First Flight is a mythical tale set thousands of years before the events depicted in the film AVATAR, and before any humans ever set foot on Pandora.
When a natural catastrophe threatens to destroy the sacred Tree of Souls, Ralu and Entu, two Omaticaya boys on the brink of adulthood, fearlessly decide to take matters into their own hands. Upon learning that Toruk can help them save the Tree of Souls, they set out, together with their newfound friend Tsyal, on a quest high up in the Floating Mountains to find the mighty red and orange predator that rules the Pandoran sky. Prophecy is fulfilled when a pure soul rises among the clans to ride Toruk for the first time and save the Na’vi from a terrible fate.
As a long-time fan, I can’t wait to introduce my girls to Cirque du Soleil, but they’re still a little young yet to sit through an entire two hour performance. So last night we left them home with Grandma, and we attended the show with my best friend and her fella. Having an adults’ night out was really special, despite being currently voiceless from a very unpleasant chest cold. But nothing short of pneumonia would keep me away!
Unlike traditional travelling Cirque shows performed under the yellow and blue striped tent of the Grand Chapiteau, TORUK is performed in an arena. I enjoy the intimacy of a smaller audience and the circus feel of the Grand Chapiteau shows performed in the round, but unlike some other big top Cirque shows that have been adapted and edited to play in arenas, TORUK was envisioned and designed specifically for an arena set up. The brilliantly transforming set utilizes all the floor space available.
The set design, costumes, and production values are stunning. Plants erupt from hidden trapdoors, and high resolution projectors create a succession of realistic habitats on the same set – forest, savannah, ocean shore. There’s a scene where ocean waves rush in from the audience and crash over the floor, and the illusion of movement is striking.
The blue-skinned and tailed Na’avi performers use the sprung floors to tumble and leap around the entire set.
Puppeteers bring Pandoran fauna to life, though I thought the viperwolves had a bit of a shiny, inflatable look which lost the element of menace for me. Flying kites soar and dive gracefully right over the audience. And most impressive of all was the titular beast Toruk, an enormous flying pteradon/dragon creature brought to life by 6 different puppeteers.
TORUK remains true to Avatar‘s messaging around the importance of living in connection and harmony with nature, but you don’t need to have seen the movie to enjoy this. (I will say that I now have the urge to watch Avatar again though.) Each tribe has a special connection with one particular element (fire, water, air) or kingdom (plants, animals) which they demonstrate through dance and acrobatic feats.
One of my favourite scenes was this one with an aerial acrobat twisting and spinning on two fabric lines high above the stage while performers on the floor dance with brilliantly coloured and hypnotic fans meant to evoke giant, otherworldly flowers.
Unlike every other Cirque du Soleil show I’ve attended, this time the score was pre-recorded. Live musicians bring an energy and authenticity that’s difficult to reproduce, so I’m not sure why this wasn’t an option for TORUK.
As I mentioned earlier, also unlike every other Cirque show, the story takes centre stage here. The performers all speak in Na’avi, so we rely on the narrator to set the scene, explain the quest-driven story, and keeps things moving. I would describe TORUK as a theatrical spectacle incorporating acrobatics and choreography into the action. This doesn’t follow the traditional Cirque du Soleil formula of acrobatic acts separated by short clowning vignettes, but I don’t believe that every show needs to follow this same format. In fact, I appreciate the willingness to try something new – that was part of Cirque du Soleil’s appeal in the first place! Go with an open mind and I think you’ll enjoy this.
TORUK – The First Flight was a wonder to behold, but Cirque du Soleil will only be in Vancouver for a few days so grab your tickets before they sell out!
Visit the Cirque du Soleil website to learn more about TORUK and see additional cities on the tour.
When: December 13–18, 2016
Where: Pacific Coliseum, 2901 E. Hastings Street, Vancouver
Tickets: Ticket prices vary by showtime. Child tickets start at $33.40 and adult tickets at $48.75, plus applicable fees.
Buy your tickets here! Save $10 when you buy a family pack of 4 tickets (2 adult and 2 child tickets).
Disclosure: I received complimentary media tickets to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are completely honest and my own, based on my own personal experience. Your experience may differ.