“Toruk” Takes Flight at BB&T Center

Cirque du Soleil’s newest arena production, “Toruk: The First Flight,” based on James Cameron’s sci-fi film, “Avatar,” comes to Miami this weekend.   Credit: Cirque du Soleil

It’s been more than 30 years since Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil first became an international sensation with its European-style circus productions.

Over the years, Cirque offered dazzling tumbling and aerial acts tied together by whimsical themes and new age music sung in an artificial language dubbed “Cirquish.” The imaginative company has explored mythology (“Varekai”) and ancient cultures (“Dralion”). More recently, incredibly popular shows have been staged in Las Vegas to the music of the Beatles (“Love”) and Michael Jackson (“One”).

The company’s latest arena show, “Toruk: The First Flight,” which opened last weekend at the BB&T Center in Sunrise and moves to Miami’s American Airlines Arena on Friday, is inspired by James Cameron’s hit movie, “Avatar.”

Set thousands of years before the arrival of humans on the planet Pandora, “Toruk” tells the story of two young Na’vi friends, Ralu (Jeremiah Hughes) and Entu (Daniel Crispin). Only a warrior who is pure of heart can save the Tree of Souls from an impending volcanic disaster, so the boys set out to collect five mystical items from the various Na’vi tribes. 

Along the way, Ralu and Entu are joined by Tsyal (Zoe Sabattle), a young female who defies her father to undertake the deadly journey. In turn, they are challenged by fierce viper wolves, six-legged horses and the other magical creatures of Pandora. Each encounter with the other clans is punctuated by one of the typical circus acts that have become familiar in Cirque productions.

But “Toruk” is much less circus than spectacle. There is plenty of acrobatic action, but the tricks take second place to the predictable story, told in English by a Na’vi narrator (Raymond O’Neill). It’s not necessary to have seen “Avatar” first, but still helpful since most of the dialogue occurs in the unintelligible native language.

Thanks to high definition projections, the arena is transformed into the wondrous landscapes of Pandora. Realistic rivers and waterfalls flow, lava surges and performers fly amongst the clouds. The young warriors race through dense jungles and across desert plains. And the shadow of the fierce predator Toruk, the last sight for its victims, menaces all corners of the arena.

Like Cameron’s movie, the show is one big metaphor for our planet’s own aboriginal cultures, their sacred relationships with nature and the struggle to survive the invasive arrival of Westerners, subtly and effectively preached in the narrator’s monologues.

But if audiences don’t choose to think too hard, they will be more than satisfied with Cirque’s inventive—and big budget—costumes, animal puppets and technical effects. It’s not a circus or even “cirque” in the traditional sense, but the “Avatar”-inspired story still serves as an impressive vehicle that will wow audiences in Miami and undoubtedly, around the world.

“Toruk: The First Flight,” based on James Cameron’s “Avatar” and performed by Cirque du Soleil, will be presented March 11 – 13 at the American Airlines Arena in Miami. Tickets start at $55 at Ticketmaster.com.

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