This week only Cirque du Soleil’s newest spectacle is at the United Center. Unlike their previous visits to Chicago, this performance is not in tents in the parking lot, but is instead in the arena itself. It’s a departure for the acrobatic troupe, one that’s necessary to capture the full grandeur of the imaginary world the show inhabits.
Toruk: The First Flight is based on James Cameron’s mega-hit movie Avatar. The mythical world of Pandora is brought to life as the arena is transformed with absolutely stunning costumes, awe-inspiring visual effects, and Cirque’s signature stagecraft. Set 3,000 years before the film, the story follows two young Na’vi as they try to save the Tree of Life from a prophesied natural disaster.
When I first heard that Cirque du Soleil’s next production would be themed around Avatar I “squeeeed” with delight and anticipation. After seeing both Ovo and Kurios I knew this would be a production of epic proportions. And it is. Throughout the show you follow the characters on their journey across Pandora, through rivers, over mountains, to the shore and up in the trees. While elements of the stage change, the majority of the scenery is created through film projected onto the arena, making the stage the canvas. It’s a magical transformation.
The costumes are characters. In one scene the acrobats represent flowers, and their gigantic petals ripple and flow. The tails and braids of the Na’vi add another level of complexity to the already challenging aspect of aerial acrobatics – imagine getting your tail caught as you quickly unwind from several, several, several feet in the air. Even the puppetry requires extreme physicality. Birds and kites soar high above the stage and out over the crowd, and the control required to keep them from getting tangled up in each other and the stage elements is immense.
Toruk is, however, a departure from “traditional” Cirque du Soleil performances (if there is such a thing). While the acrobatics are awe-inspiring, and even basic movements require more effort than most people expend in a week, this show is more about the story and less about the amazing feats these athletes can perform. Many of the feats are there; they’re just not as many nor are they in the spotlight as often as in previous shows. Except the skeleton scene – and that’s one you’ll have to see for yourself.
Another departure, and one that I predict will become part of future shows from the troupe, is the use of an app to include the audience. You’re invited before the show to download the app, and during the performance you’re prompted to face your screen towards the stage. As you look around the arena you’ll see fireflies, twinkling lights, and other effects. For me using the app was slightly distracting, but my husband found it enhanced his experience.
The music is what I and other fans have come to expect from Cirque du Soleil shows, and it’s one of my favorite aspects. Like any good soundtrack, the music helps to create the atmosphere they’re attempting to elicit and helps to transport you to this imaginary world.
Toruk: The First Flight is at the United Center, 1901 N Madison, through Sunday, August 7. Ticket prices are $55+.
TLTip: Since it’s at United Center plan on spending some $$$ for concessions. A side of fries is $6, a soft drink is $7.25, and beers are $11+.
Photos: Jesse Faatz Costumes: Kym Barrett © 2015 Cirque du Soleil