Review: Cirque du Soleil’s Avatar inspired Toruk: The First Flight will defy your expectations (in Sydney to October 29th)

There’s something to be said for expectations. When you go to a Cirque du Soleil show, you have plenty of them. In their new production Toruk: The First Flight, set in the world of the 2009 film Avatar, the iconic Montreal circus company have taken the expectations of a Cirque audience and thrown them out the door, delivering a show which enthrals, but may disappoint the more avid Cirque fans in the room. Though had I had the opportunity to read my own review before going in, maybe I wouldn’t have felt that disappointment. That’s the thing about expectation: it can warp your perception.

When you attend a normal Cirque show – be it in a travelling tent or a custom built Las Vegas theatre – there are certain mainstays. A desire to amaze, with the spectacle of eye-widening acrobatics. Live music that adds to the beat of the experience. Clowns that add to the humour. And the lack of any distinguishing storyline (let alone dialogue) to distract from any of the above. Some shows are better than others, but on the whole they stick true to this principle. Toruk, however, stays true to none of these conventions, and it struggles to impress because of it. There’s little live music, there are no clowns, there is a storyline and (gasp!) dialogue, and the emphasis isn’t as much on the acrobatics as it is a spectacular set, projections and related technology.

What’s this re: latest technology? Well, for starters there’s an app that you can use on your phone to make you “part of the experience”. Coldplay concert this is not, and few took them up on this. But I could see the idea – a few moments of the show where the crowd was able to add lights to the occasion by way of their smartphones; that sort of thing. Interesting in premise, but took us even further down the rabbit hole away from Cirque convention. And do we really need to encourage any more phone use?

But does any of this matter? If you enter the show expecting to enter the world of Avatar, with spectacular set pieces, The Lion King-esque animals, and a storyline, would you be disappointed? I’d say not. This is a stunning production to witness, with massive set pieces and huge animated creatures which interact with our heroic blue Na’vi (is that plural? I don’t remember anything from the film. Do you?). There are certainly daring feats of acrobatics, and the show has its fair share of “oooooh” moments, but they are few and far between, spread out by choreographed fights (“dancing with style”) and stunning projection technology that brings the stage to life.

Their take on the “see-saw” made of bones was one of the highlights of the show

The storyline is pretty straight forward – set before the events of the film, three characters travel around Pandora to find five objects that will help prevent a catastrophe to the tree of souls, with the aid of the flying creature “Toruk”. The main characters speak in the Na’vi language, while another wanders through the audience, periodically narrating in English. Rest assured, there are no references to “unobtainium”, nor are there any humans. This is an opportunity to explore the various Na’vi tribes that exist around the planet – as well as the beautifully designed creatures (made of rubber and steel) that are controlled by players, not dissimilar from the Broadway production of The Lion King.

While the expectations of Cirque du Soleil caused some personal disappointment, if I separate from them, it’s hard to argue this isn’t an impressive production. Fans of the Avatar film will be enthralled by the world created on the arena floor. And with a relatively easy to follow storyline, no terrifying clowns and some much loved source material, it’s one the whole family will enjoy. As a bonus, if will tide you over on the world of Avatar until the next 29 film instalments come out. But if that world isn’t for you, then perhaps this is one Cirque production you can miss.

Toruk: The First Flight has 11 performances at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena until October 29th. For tickets and more details head HERE.

The reviewer attended on opening night, 19th October 2017.