Toruk by Cirque du Soleil


The new touring Cirque du Soleil production Toruk-First Flight takes place in the world of Avatar, the 2009 3-d film directed by James Cameron who also attended the New York premiere.

Is it amazing and is there any juggling in it? Yes and no.

toruk1The movie put you in the planet Pandora by making you wear 3-d glasses. In Toruk you are actually in their world. The characters come to life, and are all around you, sometimes sitting next to you and touching you. There is also an app for your phone that you can download which activates effects, such as lighting up and sparkling, which when everyone in the theater holds up at once creates a dazzling starry night glow.

The story takes place many years before the events in Avatar took place, and there is no interference from earthlings.

toruk2Entu and his brother Ralu are experiencing the initiation rites of their tribe. While they are being tested, a crisis arises and they must put their skills to use – not just to pass the test, but to save their world. If they can obtain the 5 objects of power they will be able to summon the mythical Toruk, a high-flying creature of destiny.

There are floating mountains and the Tree of Souls to contend with, and everything from this fictional world comes to life through the magic of technology, skill, and unlimited artistic resources.

The stage covers the center of the theater with seats in concentric circles outwards. The floor is covered with ‘grey-screen’ material which can be projected upon to completely change appearance. One minute you’re looking at a river with a floating boat passing along, the next you’re seeing a volcano erupt and lava flying in your lap. Then into the forest. Wafting mist completes the scene.

toruk4It’s sometimes hard to tear your eyes off the scenery to look at the performers and see what they are doing.

And what are they doing? They are either dancing, contorting, acrobating, or negotiating the most elaborate costumes you ever saw. So between all that you don’t know where to look and you don’t have time to think, ‘did I leave the stove on?’

The characters also have to deal with a variety of fictional beasts which are presented through highly creative puppetry, some of which float, and some of which fly, including the dragonish Toruk.

Nobody walks from one place to the other, they either dance, leap, flip, or glide there. As the story progresses we meet members of other tribes on the planet who either help or hinder the boys in their quest.

toruk3There is almost nothing left of traditional circus in this show. There is some acrobatics, some contortionism, a bit of boomerang throwing, aerial straps, some staff manipulation… that’s about it.

They don’t even speak English. They are creatures from another planet, and we are on their planet. There is an earthquake though, and you actually feel it. Or a Pandora-quake in this case.
One of the objects that the brothers must obtain is the sacred plant. The plant and the Tree of Souls show just how much the Pandorians are in tune with nature. They respect it and it respects them. In this sequence, colorful plants sprout all over the stage through mini-trapdoors. They blossom and grow. They are as much a part of the show as the actor-dancers and floating mountains.

Toruk is written and directed by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon. The artistic directors and guides are Guy Laliberte and Jean-Francois Bouchard for Cirque du Soleil, and James Cameron, Jon Landau, Kahy Franklin, and Richie Baneham for Lightstorm Entertainment.

The show runs two and a half hours long with a 20 minute intermission.

toruk5I asked people after the show and at intermission what they thought:
“Fantastic. Nothing like what I expected.”
“What did you expect?”
“I don’t know.”
“More traditional circus skill”
And the children pretty much all said the same thing: “Cool!”

So that’s it, kids. If you want to know what’s the cutting edge of circus today, get off your couch and go experience it. You can’t tell from a one minute you-tube clip, you have to feel it. All of our technology, knowledge, experience, and wisdom has lead us to this show. A circus that has almost no circus in it at all. Ironic isn’t it?

All photos by the author.

Raphael Harris

Raphael Harris was the proprietor of the Jerusalem Circus School for Children for over ten years. He has performed "Sir Juggley's One Man Circus" over a thousand times. He appeared in the Guiness Book of World Records twice and the Record Setters Book of World Records three times. He lives in New York.

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