By Marcina Zaccaria
To save the Tree of Souls is a triumphant feat. The acrobats of The Cirque du Soleil show that they are up to the challenge in Toruk, The First Flight, written and directed by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon.
This enormous spectacle boasts a stage of 85 by 162 feet, and a total projection surface of 20,000 square feet, and 115 costumes. Barclays Arena, known for hosting basketball games and rock concerts, is a fitting place for a production of this scale.
Toruk, The First Flight features world-class acrobatics, only found with the Cirque du Soleil. The Cirque du Soleil – going strong since its beginnings in street performance in the 80s – doesn’t fail to impress the Brooklyn audience. Silks, sticks, and aerial drumming are all part of this magical landscape.
Video images, based on the James Cameron film, Avatar, move through the space from the floor to the back wall, creating a dazzling but cluttered scenographic lift. Cameron, Director of the feature films, Titanic and The Terminator, is a fierce environmentalist who invents new techniques for filmmaking. This partnership with the Cirque du Soleil brings a story of human potential to the stage.
While the Cirque productions always feature stunning acrobatics, Toruk also provides narrative thread. Toruk, The First Flight introduces four main characters – Ralu and Entu, two young dwellers of Omaticaya who must rise through the ranks. They meet a friend, Tsyal. With spoken text, a Na’vi Storyteller guides us through the drama, while a shaman with long, claw-like nails (and a vocal tone not as raspy as the vocalist in Cirque’s Alegria) bellows and wails.
Drum tracks and smooth synthesizer remind us that Cirque – who codified their Big-Top shows in NYC years ago – are here to stay. For this 37th production, Cirque adds an interactive Toruk app, downloadable from an Iphone. Bringing this dimension to the show, the app provides another way to explore the landscape of Pandora and engage in the experience.
An act of balance in the middle of the piece could be the most outstanding moment on a stage set built to preserve the Big Top tradition. Choreographers Tuan Le and Tan Loc work perfectly with Puppet Designer Patrick Martel and Acrobatic Performance Designer Germain Guillemot. A performer lifts their legs over their head while balancing on a large puppet skeleton.
Later, man and machine dynamics include tumbling through flying kites and riding atop a majestic red leonopteryx. A feat of technology, the moment is exactly as it is in the movies. The music, lights, and ingenuity of design – all present onstage – lead to better questions, like why do we seek group. What is it like to behave in a tribe? What is necessity and belonging in this larger landscape?
Though Toruk, The First Flight is mostly spectacle and not a larger ethics debate, Cirque du Soleil doesn’t fail to raise important questions about the interconnectedness of all living things. In the circus, acrobats prove that we are built for survival, through earthquakes, volcano eruptions, and outstanding flooding. Without pontificating, they reveal that safety, loyalty, and consistent practice are the best ways to survive any dramatic crisis. It’s impressive.
Toruk, The First Flight will be running until September 11th at Barclays Center. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/toruk.
Photos: Ericsson Lawrence