March 17, 2017 by Jill Patel
A story told through vibrant colors, incredible acrobatics and puppetry and breathtaking cinematics — this is how I would summarize my first experience with Cirque du Soleil, and even that seems to be an understatement.
As I walked into Wells Fargo Center March 8, all I knew was that I was awaiting a production by a company that I’ve heard is stunning. Before the show even began, it was evident how vast the appreciation for this production was as the audience ranged from young children to older couples.
This particular tour is called “Toruk: The First Flight” which is inspired by James Cameron’s “Avatar.” The directors, Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, intended for this show to present events that take place thousands of years before what the movie depicts. The world of Pandora is meant to be reimagined in a live setting as the adventure unfolds right in front of your eyes. These innovators have put together a new world of coexistence and imagination unlike any other.
From the moment the lights dimmed and the world of Pandora and the Na’vi enveloped the arena, the set, the effects and the dialogue tapped into a rich culture filled with beautiful landscapes and mythical legends. A Na’vi storyteller’s voice reverberated throughout, catching everyone’s attention immediately. The effects of the catastrophe that hit this world were felt by the audience through various movements and visual features. The Tree of Souls was on the verge of destruction due to this disaster.
The main characters within this production, Ralu, Entu and Tsyal, illustrate their odyssey to save this tree through choreography and acrobatics, along with numerous other actors. They learn that Toruk, a giant flying creature controlled through master puppetry to bring it to life, can aid them. The journey within the Floating Mountains begins in search of this predator soaring within the sky. The quest held all the components that the audience desired — heroism, arising complications, friendship, discovery and a fulfilled prophecy. One individual from the group rises to ride Toruk and save the Tree of Souls and the Na’vi.
Transporting the audience to Pandora and placing them amidst this adventure seems seamless as an audience member but the true depths of the work put into this production is absolutely incredible. Even as a new culture emerges on stage, the style of Cirque du Soleil is not lost, but rather they meld to form something so creative, straight out of someone’s imagination.
Nature is a large component in this show, as each set is a different landscape of flora, rapid flowing waters and mountains. The Floating Mountains, animal sanctuary, jungle and more are all created visually using multimedia projections. They are nothing short of visually stunning and, as they combine with even larger effects such as earthquakes and flowing rivers, the environment is breathtaking.
The synchronization with the performers’ choreographed movements simply added to enhance the events before your eyes. Their movements and gymnastics evoked an emotion that made me feel as if I was on this journey with them. Each performer was so coordinated and accurate within their steps that it perfectly lined up with the live atmosphere.
What I felt was so awe-inspiring about the entire show was the fact that it literally places you within the setting without making you feel like a spectator. This was done through more creative projections such as portraying a starry night sky along the entire arena.
Another way was through the app that was created for this event. It incorporates the audience within every facet of the show and takes audience participation to a new level. As you open the app, you type in your seat so the program detects exactly where you are in the arena and what your view is.
At different times during the show, you are told to hold your phone up to add to the lighting details on the stage. Toruk immerses you within the production in more ways than one — the set comes to life and you become a part of the tale.
Within such a nature-based world, the sets and props took the environment to a new level. Not only were they visually accurate, but they were also incredibly appealing and stimulating. The makeup and costumes were exceptional, as they heightened the illusion of the performance’s reality.
Everything was so precise and detailed and luminescent that the fact that this was occurring in front of your eyes seemed impossible. The colors within each set and prop used by the performers were full of color and illuminated the stage. It was like a festival for the eyes that seemed to only get better with each change that happened on stage. It left the audience anticipating what came next in this quest.
Never having had any experience with Cirque du Soleil before, all I had to go off of was everyone else’s impressions. “Stunning” was the word that kept arising and I can say now myself that I agree with that wholeheartedly. The carnival of lights, color and performance that is illustrated in front of the audience is unlike any other and definitely worth the watch.
“Toruk” was my first experience with this company and it was absolutely incredible. To be a part of that audience is to literally be brought to another world and it is worth it, without a doubt. Next time Cirque du Soleil visits Philadelphia, be sure to go and watch reality being transformed in front of your very eyes.