Known for traversing the limits of Euclidean space, Cirque du Soleil materializes on stage the film that pioneered mainstream 3-D cinema, James Cameron’s “Avatar.” Titled “Toruk: The First Flight,” the show is the obvious marriage of two visual feasts. As the world’s leading contemporary circus, Cirque du Soleil constructs heritage and mythology through fascinating spectacle.
The narrative focuses on three “Na’vi” characters, performed by Jeremiah Hughes, Guillaume Paquin and Giulia Piolanti. They must travel across the planet to obtain sacred objects among the five clans in order to save their homeland from destruction. The plot serves as a delightfully contrived frame to take the audience on an odyssey across the fictional planet Pandora.
The creators impressively immerse the audience into a stirringly alien environment. The bioluminescent fauna and flora interact with the characters, creating a constellation that cascades across the floor and through the air. The audience may very well be convinced of the natural agility of the alien race to then realize there is nothing short of extraordinary for humans in blue makeup to achieve the same feats. They do not jump when they can pounce; they do not land when they can flip. Even the six-legged “Viperwolves” move with uncanny canine dexterity, puppeted by stagehands dressed in black Na’vi costumes. As they pull the strings and move the stage, these shadowy figures draw a strange metanarrative element to the show. It feels as if some alien performers are entertaining humans by showcasing one of their legends in kabuki-like fashion.
Cirque du Soleil are at their best in sound design and choreography. The soundtrack evokes the entire ethnographic spectrum, hitting different timbres for each clan we meet. The breathtaking acrobatics are embedded within the rituals of the clans and reflect some feature of their culture. One called the “Tawkami Clan” uses flower petals the size of palm leaves in a sequence that is reminiscent of a Korean fan dance. Another act sweeps the audience with the perfect synchronization of flying “Banshee” kites not unlike traditional Chinese designs.
In short, “Toruk” is a tribute to diversity, and it shows in its intricacy. Every nudge of the experience is orchestrated to careful depths. What is left to the imagination is the massive clockwork behind all that is made to look seamless. While grand in its whirlwind of motion and flair, the show’s true spectacle is in its attention to detail.
“Toruk: The First Flight” was performed in Houston from Feb. 11 to Feb. 14 and will now tour in South Carolina and Florida.