For the first time, Cirque du Soleil’s creative, front-line staffers seem concerned.
Not because they sense a turkey on their hands in Toruk — The First Flight, the Montreal company’s collaboration with Avatar director James Cameron. But because Toruk, they say, is not the usual Cirque show, despite the brand name, which carries much weight with millions who have seen Cirque’s work since the late 1980s.
Toruk opens Thursday at Sunrise’s BB&T Center and moves to Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena March 10.
“If people expect to see formula Cirque, they will question where we are going,” warns Fabrice Lemire, Toruk’s Paris-born artistic director.
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“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,” adds Gabriel Christo, one of Toruk’s lead characters as Ralu, a 14-year-old boy warrior.
“I leave the stage for less than two minutes,” Christo, 28, says. “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.”
So what is this Toruk that has Cirque folk asking for audience understanding and open minds? It’s the first Cirque show adapted from another story, in this case James Cameron’s blockbuster 2009 film, Avatar (its record-setting U.S. box office haul was topped only last year by Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Toruk takes place thousands of years before the action in Avatar but is set under the same Pandoran sky.
Here, the first Na’vi people, who have their own language, ride the dragonlike Toruk (say it: tor-ook) and live in splendor. But a premonition predicts doom — the destruction of the sacred Tree of Souls, which is the life source of the Na’vi people. Teens Ralu and his pal Entu must find five objects that will entice the all-powerful Toruk to save the Tree of Souls.
We are not doing a recreation of the movie on stage.
Fabrice Lemire, artistic director of ‘Toruk — The First Flight’ on Cirque’s collaboration with ‘Avatar’ director James Cameron.
As such, Toruk is the first Cirque show with a clear narrative as opposed to the themes that serve as “plots” in such previous shows as Amaluna, Kooza, Totem or Varekai. The show is also the first in the long line of Cirque productions to feature performers miked with dialogue to deliver. The performer/actors will do so in the Cameron-created Na’vi language of Avatar’s Pandora, and a narrator will speak in English. Expect less in the way of derring-do on the trapeze and more movie-like exposition and action on a stage measuring 85 by 162 feet.
Projections from 40 video projectors will turn the Sunrise and Miami arenas into Pandora and, for the first time in a Cirque show, audience members can be a part of the lighting and special effects team. Spectators are asked to download the Toruk — The First Flight mobile app before attending the performance. By using the app, available through the Apple Store or Google Play, users’ phones will help open Act Two, a stormy night scene, explains Lemire.
“The phone becomes flashes of lightning,” he said of the planned interactive experience.
Cameron’s participation included the passing of notes to Cirque’s creative team and verbal directions, but he wasn’t directing Toruk, Lemire said. Cameron also stressed he did not want Toruk to be a straight remake of Avatar, but rather a show inspired by the film, colored by Cirque’s distinctive production values through its cast of 35 performers. These characters, through makeup and projections, along with 115 costumes for an average of 3.3 costume changes per artist, will convince fans they are seeing Na’vi in the flesh. Or so Cirque hopes.
“James Cameron was very involved with the ecological themes and messages of what the society was going through now and embracing diversity. He was involved but not hands-on, extremely gracious,” Lemire said of the Titanic director who is generally known as a tough taskmaster.
Acting with pages of dialogue was also a challenge for the performers.
“We have a lot of acting in the show. That’s different than other shows, which have always been acrobatic. This brought me a whole new perspective — acting, talking on stage, performing on projections,” the Brazilian-born Christo said.
The experience was profound for the young man playing a boy.
“I discovered a new side of myself, out of my comfort zone. I’m playing a character who is very outgoing, proud and a big brother, which brings out a new part of me,” Christo said. “I’m usually a caring guy, chill and tranquil. I had to explore other ways of acting, to be very proud, which I’m not. I’m still developing the character. ... You have to think outside the box; … for me, very rewarding.”
If you go
What: ‘Toruk — The First Flight,’ inspired by James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday at BB&T Center, One Panther Pkwy., Sunrise. Also, 7:30 p.m. March 10-13 at AmericanAirlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami