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Cirque du Soleil: Toruk – The First Flight

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Cirque du Soleil’s latest touring production, Toruk – The First Flight, is inspired by James Cameron’s 2009 epic sci-fi adventure, Avatar (until recently, the highest-grossing film of all-time). The Na’vi are currently flying, flipping, and bouncing their way across the States, setting up shop for limited engagements in locations like downtown Houston’s Toyota Center, where I caught the show last weekend.

No stranger to the “Circus of the Sun” (this was my 8th Cirque show), I was interested to see how the Canadian entertainment company would approach a production based on a famous movie property. This is a first. Many Cirque du Soleil performances follow a simple format; they feature live music that is alternately pounding and sensual, funny clowns to open and/or host the show, and a variety of international performers showcasing their exceptional and unusual talents, all loosely tied together by a central theme. 4 of the 8 shows I’ve seen fit this description: Mystère, Alegría, Saltimbanco, and Amaluna. They each manage to be uniquely unforgettable in their own ways, but at the core, their structure is the same.

The first Cirque show I saw that departed from this format was , at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. I was blown away. took the amazing stunts from other Cirque shows and successfully combined them with a compelling narrative, resulting in my favorite Cirque du Soleil experience of all-time. Toruk – The First Flight has a similar approach and though it never quite reaches the emotional heights of , it’s successful in it’s own right and is an interesting departure from the traditional Cirque show.

Toruk is less circus-like and more theatrical than most Cirque du Soleil productions. While the “wows” usually come from the stunts, in this instance I was more impressed with the world they managed to create/recreate. The ever-changing stage is quite grand (especially for a traveling show) and like , Toruk uses lighting and multimedia projection to great effect, transforming the space usually occupied by James Harden and Co. into a lush jungle, a burning volcano, a flowing river/waterfall, and more. 25+ performers grace the stage at once, cloaked in impeccably detailed costumes and makeup, jumping, bouncing, climbing, and swinging, some performing stunts, others operating intricate puppets or flying kites that resemble the flying creatures of Pandora. It’s hard to match the immersive experience of James Cameron’s Avatar in 3D, but Toruk does a commendable job of bringing the Na’vi’s world to life on stage. There’s never a dull moment.

The story takes place on Pandora long before the events in the movie. Toruk – The First Flight is a coming-of-age tale that follows Ralu and Entu from the Na’vi’s Omaticaya clan. As their world is thrown into chaos, they receive help from Tsyal, and the duo becomes a trio. An epic journey ensues in an attempt to gather five sacred objects and save the Tree of Souls. Along the way, they ride a Direhorse, fend off Viperwolves, and visit the sacred Floating Mountains. The spirit of Eywa is strong with this one.

Toruk – The First Flight tours through September with upcoming stops in Arkansas, South Carolina, Florida, and Oklahoma. Tickets and full schedule here.

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Salty Winters once said, "Everything I learned I learned from the movies." He was quoting Audrey Hepburn.