The words Cirque du Soleil bring to mind heart-stopping stunts and gravity-defying acrobatic acts. But if you’re heading down to Cirque’s latest offering in the UAE, Toruk — The First Flight, which runs at the Dubai World Trade Centre until January 16, you’ll have to adjust your expectations.
The show, inspired heavily by James Cameron’s Avatar, and based 3000 years before the events of the sci-fi film, expends most of its energy in the same way the movie does: through world-building.
The characters, transformed via snug blue leotards and matching face contour, have a more-or-less singular goal: they must tame Toruk — a winged, ember predator who casts a shadow wherever he flies — in order to restore balance to their home of Pandora.
There are three teenagers at the centre of the chaos, who must overcome obstacles to a relentless beat. Much of the noises you will hear have been extracted by composers Bob & Bill from the natural world — leaves, sticks, tree trunks, etc.
The actors are mic’d up, as well, speaking in their fictional Na’vi language between each other. They use body language to communicate emotion to the rest of us. Meanwhile, an English language narrator guides the audience through the specifics of their journey, culminating in a big reveal in the final act.
Toruk — The First Flight presents a couple of firsts for Cirque du Soleil: it’s the first of their shows to be based on a film, and the first to be narrated by an English-language narrator. Depending on your tastes, this could either improve or detract from your overall experience.
For fans of the movie, which is the highest-grossing film of all time, Toruk serves as a live prequel — loud, colourful and thematically intense. It is, at heart, a theatrical production, with a touch of acrobatics sprinkled throughout. These athletic acts seldom feel new or dangerous to the viewer, but they peak with a beautiful mid-show segment of hand balancing and contortion, where members of the clan must balance atop a bare skeleton, resembling the winged Toruk, while the creature rotates and dips like a seesaw beneath their hands and feet.
There’s also a surprising amount of puppeteering involved. Various Pandorian animals, including direhorses and viperwolves, arrive on stage, involving themselves in the production’s plentiful battles.
One unexpected highlight was the sheer power of vocalist Priscilia Le Foll, whose chilling soprano singing shocked the audience to attention more than once, and added an emotional depth to a busy, bustling set.
Toruk — The First Flight is a visually ambitious piece of entertainment, with 40 projectors creating a world that feels alive — movements, sounds and scents included. We are also officially in 2018, which means audience members were invited to download an interactive app on their phones that allowed them to be part of the show, mostly through timed flashlight effects.
Overall, the show does not occupy itself with continuous acrobatic acts that will leave your heart lodged in your throat. Instead, it lends itself to onstage transformations, where the expansive world of Avatar is re-explored in the flesh.
Don’t miss it!
Toruk — The First Flight runs until January 16 at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Tickets start from Dh315 online.