Saturday, November 19, 2016

review - TORUK - THE FIRST FLIGHT - Cirque de Soleil - National Tour: Talking Stick Resort Arena

Photo:by Jesse Faatz, Costumes by Kym Barrett
© 2015 Cirque du Soleil
by Gil Benbrook

For over thirty years Cirque de Soleil has continued to impress audiences with numerous productions playing around the world that are highlighted by the combination of performers with exceptional athletic agility and vibrant production values. However, the one thing most Cirque shows lack is a cohesive, coherent story line. One of Cirque's latest offerings, Toruk - the First Flight, which has been touring nationally for a year and is in Phoenix for a week long run, breaks the mold somewhat with a simple story that uses characters and settings based on James Cameron's hit film Avatar.  The end result is an entertaining show filled with sensational eye popping visuals, giant puppets and a refined sense of awe.

Toruk – The First Flight takes the setting and characters from the 2009 film Avatar but sets the story before the action of the movie. Set on a remote tropical moon full of exotic creatures and plant life, the arena sized production provides a vast landscape for the designers to have a giant, blank canvas at their disposal. The combination of Carl Fillion's set and props and Alain Lortie's lighting create the vast locales of the story line in sensational colors and images. Their ability to represent an earthquake, an erupting volcano with realistic lava flowing, giant waterfalls, and a river, are just some of the superb visuals they achieve.

The story follows Ralu and Entu (Gabriel Christo and Jeremiah Hughes rotate as Ralu and Guillaume Paquin and Daniel Crispin alternate as Entu), two Na’vi warriors who are members of the Omaticaya Clan, who must collect five sacred objects in order to save their people from the threat of destruction from the planet's natural forces. The story plays more like a scavenger hunt game with the warriors continually encountering different tribes and creatures that they must battle with in order to collect the objects. Along their journey they also befriend Tsyal, a female member of the Tawkami Clan, who joins them on their quest (Giulia Piloanti and Zoe Sabattie alternate as Tsyal). While the story is slight and predictable, it is still enjoyable, even though there really is never a true sense of an antagonist or danger that our trio faces that we don't know from the beginning that they won't be able to overcome.

The show is narrated by the Storyteller (Raymond O'Neill who is appropriately stoic and clear in his delivery) who we learn in a somewhat emotional ending has a deep connection to this tale and, like most Cirque shows, the entire production is filled with a vast soundscape of noises and music, most of which are sung by Priscilia le Foll with a voice that soars with a refined clarity.

Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon wrote and directed the production and they find a way to incorporate the amazing athletic abilities closely associated with Cirque de Soleil performers into the show by having the three leads and the other tribesmen they encounter continually display their muscular prowess and athletic agility. While the addition of a story line is good, especially for someone like myself who wants some sense of emotional connection to the characters on stage beyond the spectacle, there are several moments when our three leads don't do much more than serve as onlookers, which occasionally slows the piece down.

Patrick Martel has created some truly inspiring puppets, including a large and grand design for Toruk, the dragon who is the largest flying predator in the sky, and we learn the five objects when combined are able to tame Toruk in order to help save the planet. Kym Barrett's costumes expertly bring members of this well known tribe to life in a range of deep blue hues.

By adding performers of refined agility with non-stop, changing, stunning, richly colorful and detailed visuals and the end result is a superb production for both Crique fans as well as fans of the film who will be overjoyed in how the Cirque magic recreates the world of Avatar in a large scale arena environment.  Toruk- the First Flight presents a simple story of bravery and brotherhood and of overcoming your fears - simple lessons that everyone can relate to in this feast for the eyes, ears and mind.

Visit https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/toruk for more information on this production, which plays in Phoenix through Sunday, November 20th and then continues across the country.

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