TORUK - The First Flight is a unique Cirque du Soleil experience. The company has long been creating productions of color, sound and incredible acrobatics woven together by a backstory often related to our relationship to the earth and its elements. The Cirque devotee will find this show to be different.
I won't expound too much upon the background of the show since it is well covered elsewhere. Basically, the story takes place centuries before the James Cameron's fantasy film Avatar but was inspired by that movie. Cameron participated in the development of this tale, where young friends in the land of Pandora take off on an adventure to find TORUK, a huge flying creature that has never before been mounted, on a quest to save Pandora's Tree of Souls.
TORUK diverges from other Cirque du Soleil shows in several ways:
- The performers do not interact directly with the audience; there are no clowns.
- Characters speak and sing in the fictional language of Pandora. Human audiences will not understand exactly what is being said, and that is the intention. The tone and inflections offer up the gist of the exchange. That's common for Cirque du Soleil, but in TORUK there is also a narrator, who explains, in English, what the characters are doing, where they are going and why.
- TORUK - First Flight incorporates puppetry into the performance. Some are operated by hand outside the creature, and some have humans inside of them. The central characters must deal with these creatures, as well as the natural elements, to find TORUK, which is, itself, a puppet.
- One of the most significant differences between this show and most of Cirque du Soleil's other productions is that it is not as focused on acrobats. While there are constant motion and fantastic choreography, often requiring great athleticism on the part of the actors, there are few amazing feats of death- or injury-defying nature here. Patrons who come expecting two hours of astounding stunts performed by dozens of highly trained gymnasts on intricate pieces of equipment might be disappointed.
- Guests at the show are encouraged to bring a fully-charged phone and download the TORUK - First Flight app. Upon providing check-in details, the app is supposed to push notifications during the show that allow the audience to participate in the production's special effects.
The trick to TORUK for Cirque du Soleil fans is to manage your expectations. This is not a show with trapeze acts or balancing on piled chairs. TORUK - The First Flight is visually stunning and technologically amazing. The special effects — from the puppets to the kites to the flowing river to the volcanic eruptions to the avalanche and the crashing of the ocean waves — are mesmerizing. The choreography is Cirque-precise and beautifully arranged. It is colorful and stimulating. The performers exhibit their acrobatic strengths. I was absorbed, from beginning to end.
About the app: although I was checked into the app, it did not work for me, and I was not the only one! About 15 minutes into the show I decided to turn off my phone completely since the app was not enhancing the performance for me and was more of a frustration/distraction. I opted to watch the stage instead of the phone! I do recommend, however, that you check out the tour of Pandora on your phone while you are waiting for the show to begin, or, better yet, at the online version before you get to the theatre. Being familiar with the clans and their respective talismans will aid in the understanding of the TORUK storyline.
This review of TORUK - The First Flight is based on my attendance at the performance in November 2016 at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.