Tue, Jul 11, 2017 - Page 13 News List

‘Toruk’ proves more soporific than terrific

The cinematic magic that made ‘Avatar’ such a big hit turned out to be difficult to translate into a live spectacle, though Montreal’s famed Cirque du Soleil tried hard

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk — The First Flight tells a story about the Na’vi inhabitants of the moon Pandora, the world featured in the film Avatar.

Photo Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

I have been to the land of the blue people. They are nimble, colorful and many can do amazing feats of physical agility while hanging — or dropping — from silks and ropes from the ceiling of the Taipei Arena or tumbling around the floor.

I have been to the land of the blue people, with its volcanic eruptions, floods and flying monsters — and I was bored.

If I did not have a guidebook to Pandora, the program for Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk — The First Flight (阿凡達前傳), I would not be able to remember exactly what I saw or what it was all supposed to mean.

Which was really disappointing, because I have been wanting to see a Cirque du Soleil show for two decades, ever since the troupe made their Hong Kong debut and friends raved about the performance.

Toruk, written and directed by the team of Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, is one of Cirque du Soleil’s most ambitious projects, with a massive set, 40 video projectors, giant puppets and elaborate kite sequences.

The show tells of the Na’vi inhabitants of the moon Pandora, the world featured in James Cameron’s hit film Avatar, and the effort of two young friends to save their planet from natural disaster and their people from extinction.

The basic premise is that a massive volcanic eruption threatens to destroy the Tree of Souls. A warrior, or in this case the hunters Ralu and Entu, must collect a talisman from each of the five tribes of the Na’vi, which will allow them to call down a “toruk,” or “last shadow,” which must then be ridden in order to save the tree.

Set designer Carl Fillion did create some fabulous images. However, the dim lighting that was needed to ensure that the set’s magic was not visible to audiences entering and exiting the arena made navigating the steep steps and narrow aisles problematic for many people.

There were some great props, like a giant see-saw of bones, where contortionist Baasansuren Enkhbaatar and four others worked their magic. The sequence with the Na’vi tribe that wears butterfly-wing-costumes — designed by Kym Barrett — was beautiful to watch, albeit not that exciting.

However, there was too much repetitive action that didn’t advance the story. Additionally, the set in the center of the floor made it difficult for those not seated in the side sections to see what was going on when the Na’vi started to scale the mountain at the back in a bid to break a dam and send waters flooding to the floor to quench the flow of volcanic lava.

The music by composers Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard, known collectively as Bob & Bill, had so many soaring highs, thrilling cresendos and pounding drums that it appeared designed to make up for the lack of emotional content in the script.

One feature of the show is that its lighting design uses audience members’ smartphones via an app so that the phones flash orange during the volcano sequence or blue for the flood and quite a lot of people at the show on Thursday last week were joining in.

I hope the next time Cirque’s management are tempted to build a show around a movie storyline as an easy way to maximize their merchandising potential they will think twice — and then say no. They would be better to stick to what they are famed for: overwhelming spectacles of physical derring-do and high-wire acts.

Toruk — The First Flight is on at the Taipei Arena through Tuesday next week.

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