Toruk the stuff of recurring dreams

Toruk Cirque du Soleil GigCity EdmontonToruk – The First Flight, from the world’s largest theatrical company Cirque du Soleil (100 productions and counting), is taking flight in Edmonton.

At Rogers Place until Dec. 26, the show is based on James Cameron’s box office juggernaut Avatar using Cameron’s lush, vividly imagined world of the planet Pandora. Cirque strips away Cameron’s least successful element of the movie, the mighty (American) task force sent out to destroy the gentle Na’vi. For anyone on the Mars colony who might have missed the movie here on Earth, the Na’vi are willowy, two-metre tall, blue skinned humanoids who live in harmony with their densely forested tropical world and provide an obstacle to the rapacious developers from Earth in their search for the precious mineral “unobtanium.”

Toruk takes place about 30 years before the invasion and concentrates on the remote world and its people. The Cirque designers have recreated and embellished the original vision, filled with flying dragons and dinosaurs living in a vivid landscape of imaginative creatures and exotic vegetation. Using the magic of theatre and the very latest in technology, co-directors, writers and visual coordinators Michel Lemieux & Victor Pilon create an alien but enveloping world that certainly establishes a new standard for theatrical suspension of disbelief.

“Enveloping” is the key word here because patrons don’t just sit and watch. Through projections and staging you find yourself deeply a part of the mise en scène. The most impressive of them is a mighty flood that not only is a technological marvel, but takes full advantage of the sweep and architecture of Rogers Place. You also find yourself on the shores of a vast ocean where the waves rise out of the audience and crash on distant shores. Water-wings should be provided.

Toruk Cirque du Soleil GigCity EdmontonToruk also is another first for Cirque. It does not abandon the original idea of physical theatre but the emphasis changes to spectacle and storytelling. Up until now, Cirque has mostly been a vehicle for mystical displays of physical prowess – acrobats, gymnasts and strongmen performing astounding physical feats of strength and balance. This show attempts to use a real story for its driving device – something about two hunters who set out on an epic quest to summon Toruk, a huge predator vaguely resembling a pterodactyl, that lives in the skies of Pandora. They must tame the creature to save the Na’vi from a fiery Armageddon. The questers must cross four distinct districts and each demonstrates its unique culture by staging some kind of performance.

For the first time large puppets are used. The detailed creatures are something like the puppets in The Lion King in that the puppeteers are in full sight and the creatures are propelled with impressively realistic movement. The most effective are a pack of six legged werewolves with eyes that glow in the dark – and are really creepy. The production still features physical stunts that bring the shock and awe we are so familiar with in Cirque. Acrobats and contortionists writhe in perfect precision high atop a giant skeleton of bones. Giant purple and pink fans blossom in a graceful dance while clouds of colourful kites fly above. And just wait until the massive flying creature, Toruk, descends from the heavens.

The production also uses a charismatic storyteller, Raymond O’Neill, to spin the tale.

If you find Cirque du Soleil getting a bit old hat then you’ll probably not find much that’s new here. But if you enjoy fantasy, eye-filling spectacle and a trippy and immersive journey to an alluring new world, Toruk is the stuff of dreams.