With ‘Toruk,’ Cirque du Soleil to turn Infinite Energy Arena into Pandora


By: Jon Gallo

Published: Sunday, April 24, 2016

Consider yourself forewarned: Cirque du Soleil’s latest show isn’t like anything the world’s largest theatrical producer has ever assembled.

“Toruk — The First Flight,” which will play at the Infinite Energy Arena from June 15 through 19, focuses on telling a story instead of using words to bridge amazing circus acts that highlight shows such as “Ovo,” “Amaluna,” “Joya” and “Varekai,” which played at the arena last summer.

“If people expect to see formula Cirque, they will question where we are going,” Fabrice Lemire, “Toruk’s” Paris-born artistic director, told The Miami Herald.

“Toruk — The First Flight” is inspired by director James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster movie “Avatar,” which takes place on a moon named Pandora that’s home to blue-skinned creatures known as Na’vi. But Cirque du Soleil’s version takes place thousands of years before the movie, as two young warriors — Ralu and Entu — try to save their people after a natural disaster threatens to kill the planet’s lifeline, the sacred Tree of Souls.

“It is completely different; it’s not like other Cirque shows. I want people to come open-minded that this is something they haven’t seen before so they can enjoy it without expectations,” Gabriel Christo, who plays Ralu, told The Miami Herald. “Ralu is on stage the whole time, and it’s a physical show, and I have to focus all the time and interact with a lot of people. It’s a challenge.”

Still, the link between “Toruk” and “Avatar,” which generated more than $2.78 billion at the worldwide box office to make it the highest-grossing film of all time, shows Cirque du Soleil is trying to evolve into a another genre, one vastly different than basing shows on Michael Jackson and The Beatles.

“We have a lot of acting in the show,” said Christo, a 28-year-old Brazilian. “That’s different than other shows, which have always been acrobatic. This brought me a whole new perspective — acting, talking on stage and performing on projections.”

“Toruk’s” set also distinguishes the show.

The Tree of Souls is 80 feet wide and 40 feet tall, and the total projection surface, which includes the stage floor, two lateral screens and the Tree of Souls, is about 20,000 square feet, which is more than five times the size of a standard IMAX screen. The show uses 38 video projectors — 22 for the stage floor, eight to send projections into the audience, six for the Tree of Souls and two for the lateral screens.

“To me, this show is more like a movie than a stage production,” Lemire told The Tulsa World. “It is a feast for the eyes. You are completely submerged in this world, and it is so convincing it is difficult not to believe it is real.”

“Toruk” has a 35-member cast, which is small for one of the company’s shows. However, 115 costumes are used in the show, an average of 3.3 per performer. The costume department, which needed 437 yards of fabric and 120 fishing rods just to create the flowers for the Tawkami, created more than 1,000 pieces, including shoes and jewelry.

The Storyteller, voiced by Raymond O’Neill, narrates how Ralu and Entu try to save their civilization. The duo interacts with numerous Na’vi clans, with each specializing in a skill. The Omaticaya has gymnastics; the Tawkami has aerial dance and silk flying; the Anurai has balance; the Tipani has pole acrobatics; and the Kekunan is fantastic with kites. Since each clan resides in different landscapes, which rinclude flowery fields to the desert, the constant changing of imagery to alter the terrain provides another element, as do the massive puppets.

“It is maybe the most elaborate show the company had done — on a visual level, certainly,” Lemire told The Tulsa World. “Normally, with a Cirque du Soleil production, the chief wow factor is the acrobatics, the incredible things our artists can do. Now, we still have the wow factor of the acrobatics, but on top of that is the even greater wow factor of the visuals.”