Do you remember James Cameron’s “Avatar,” a movie where lithe blue aliens, the Na’vi, worshiped their mother earth, Eywa? The Na’vi protected the sacred Tree of Souls and feared a pterodactyl-like predator, the Toruk. Cirque du Soleil has, with the blessings of James Cameron, created a prequel, “Toruk: The First Flight,” a show that neither soars nor totally bores.
There are, as one would expect from Cirque du Soleil, plenty of good ideas and great acrobatics, but the show doesn’t flow and wow the audiences. The backstage wall is transformed into gigantic tree roots. This tree is too tall for us to see any greenery except perhaps some moss. At the center of the thrust stage, is a raised platform. Along the sides are various crash pads made to look like rock, but with sections where things may rise and fall, appear and disappear. Some of the scene changes are projected from above. Between the crash pads and the center island platform is a pathway or moat.
There are no clown to entertain the crowd, but this is a software application you can download prior to the show and register your seat number. Because the show started late–the doors didn’t open until after 7 p.m. Doors should have opened at 6:30 p.m.
The story begins with a Storyteller who takes us back in time to the Omatikaya Clan where two male Na’vi, Ralu and Entu, prepare for a coming-of-age ritual. The cast leaps and tumbles on the stage as a circular drum is at first on the stage and then later is raised into the air where cast members play the circular drum upside down. Amusing, yes. Spell-binding, no.
Inside the great Hometree, the Omatikaya “weave” using a giant loom that represents how all living things are connected. After the weaving song, Ralu and Entu face their first trial as hunters, but Entu fails and flees into the forest. Ralu is initiated. Yet an earthquake causes the Omatikaya to scatter. The shaman has a vision in which the Tree of Souls is threatened. The clan attempts to find a solution but Ralu is too young to help.
Ralu seeks his friend Entu. Entu is in a bioluminescent forest and under the Tree of Voices they hear the voices of their ancestors telling them to gather five objects and find the Toruk. They set off on their quest threatened by Viperwolves but meet a new friend Tsyal who comes to their aid.
Through this quest, Ralu, Entu and Tsyal will meet different clans. This is one of the few Cirque du Soleil shows that is highly dependent upon English narration to tell its story and it doesn’t always work. You listen instead of feel and strain to derive meaning from nonsensical words and the names of the characters of the tribes act as linguistic and mental stumbling blocks.
Other problems are that the puppets used to show the Viperwolves and other beasts are as beautiful as other productions (“The Lion King”) and we aren’t emotionally invested in them (“War Horse”). The Toruk itself suffers greatly in comparison with other shows such as “Walking with Dinosaurs.”
Still some of the imagery is stunning such as when the water, projected from above, washes over the set. The large colorful fans that look like giant flower petals are also beautiful to see. The acrobatics, as always, are amazing.
This show is only for die-hard Cirque du Soleil or “Avatar” fans although it might spark an interest in designers of apps. There is an app one can download to interact with the action on stage. Because of the show’s late start, I wasn’t aware of the application. The venue also had dead spots so the download of the app was problematic.
The app itself can, at times, detract from the action on stage which tends to be overly busy. Yet one expects that in the future these things can be perfected and who knows what may come of the emerging smart phone generations?
“Toruk: The First Flight” is currently at the Staples Centers until Nov. 13. It returns to Los Angeles next year in Inglewood, January 12-15, 2017. Tickets are now on sale.