Just sit back and enjoy the show

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Theater Review
TORUK: The First Flight
Cirque du Soleil
Performances until July 2
Mall of Asia Arena, Pasay City

By Zsarlene B. Chua,

Pure spectacle is how one would be able to describe TORUK: The First Flight — a Cirque du Soleil touring production inspired by the expansive world of James Cameron’s film Avatar.

Just sit back and enjoy the show

Replete with aerial stunts and dances (as the title suggests), the two-hour performance which premiered on June 23 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City is a joy to watch, if one discounts the often confusing storytelling.

Set in the same universe as the 2009 hit, yet occurring before the events of the film, TORUK follows two hunters of the Omaticaya clan on the distant Pandora moon as they search for the dreaded flying predator, Toruk, the only being that is able to save their world from nature’s destruction.

The two hunters, Ralu and Entu, whose coming-of-age ceremony is interrupted by a premonition of doom — a volcanic eruption which will wipe out the entire world — set out on a journey to get five talismans from the other four clans on Pandora in order to summon the Toruk.

Now, I could talk about the simple premise all I want but that’s not what the show is all about. It’s not about the story (written by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon): it’s about how the Canadian theater/circus company brings to life the fantasy of the Na’vi world.

The show, which premiered in 2015 in Montreal, makes use of a touring stage of foam and steel. Created by Pennsylvania-based Tait Towers, a live event equipment designer known for making the stages of The Rolling Stones and Lady Gaga, the Toruk stage features a movable and inflatable “hometree” as well as a main “island” which hides a hidden compartment for seamless transitions from scene to scene.

“Most of the scenic dressing the audience sees are in fact inflatable,” said Tait project manager Scott Levine on the Cirque du Soleil Web site.

“That’s what enables us to build huge structures and still be able to transport them,” he added.

The show also uses projection mapping — projection technology which makes use of irregularly shaped objects as a display surface for video projection — to shift from one location to another.

Just sit back and enjoy the show

Toruk also introduced a mobile app of the same name to make the whole experience more immersive — probably because if they cannot persuade people to not use their phones while the show is ongoing, they would rather make the phones useful.

At certain points in the show, the audiences sees their phones turn into the eyes of Viperwolves (a wolf-like creature) or become part of the every-changing scenery.

Of course, the mobile app requires a reasonably fast Internet connection, something the Philippines isn’t known to have, so few little more than a handful of audience members got to really experience the gimmick.

But more than the multimedia storytelling, what really got the audience clapping during the opening performance was what Cirque does best — the acrobatic stunts.

During the first act, the audience was regaled by a dozen or so Na’vi from the Tawkami clan — gifted herbalists known for their close connection to plants — performing using orange, yellow and red fans, while a young Na’vi named Tsyal (daughter of the village chief) danced while hanging on silks.

Another clan, the Anurai, made see-sawing on the bones of the Thanator (a dinosaur said to be Pandora’s deadliest creature) look easy as half a dozen clan members climbed on its spine and performed a maneuver of some importance: the narrator said the clan was composed of known astronomers but failed to mention why dancing atop their totem helps them to map out the stars.

The story at multiple points failed to tie everything together — why the Toruk is important in saving Pandora from a volcanic eruption; how the hunters suddenly and without ample explanation suddenly got hold of the five talismans even if the other clans do not believe their explanation, etc. — which can be a bit frustrating.

The story doesn’t have a lot going for it as it is very disjointed despite being very simple, but then again, people to do not come to a Cirque du Soleil performance for the story; they come for the acrobats — even if a performer fumbles like the boomerang thrower in the second act who failed to catch one (or was it two?) of the four he threw. The appreciative audience still applauded his efforts.

While the aerials dances, on silks and ropes, and the puppets representing the animals of Pandora, are nothing new — anyone who is familiar with The Lion King musical would be familiar with the kind of puppetry shown in Toruk — what makes it all different is the seamless execution and the inclusion of multimedia technology in the performance.

It’s a joy to watch, especially if you don’t think too hard.

Tickets are available at Ticket prices are P7,368, P5,990, P4,770, P3,498 (partially obstructed view), and P1,500 (partially obstructed view).