‘Toruk: The First Flight’ is a technically impressive theater production

In full bloom: Toruk’s use of props and projections transforms SM MOA Arena into the wonderful world of Pandora. | Photo by Youssef Shoufan

Before anything else, I’d like to come clean: I haven’t seen the movie Avatar. James Cameron’s global hit following up Titanic was both commercially and critically acclaimed at the time it was released, but I intentionally ignored it when it hit the cinemas. It’s safe to say that I had no idea what I was getting into when I entered the SM MOA Arena to see Cirque du Soleil’s new Avatar-inspired show, Toruk: The First Flight.

From what I know, the scale of Pandora (the world depicted in Avatar) isn’t something that can be replicated easily. There’s a reason why they relied mostly on CGI when they were producing the film. But Toruk proves that even technologically advanced movies can be brought to the theater stage.

With shows until July 2, Toruk tells the story of two brothers — plus a few unexpected friends along the way — and their quest to find the items needed to defeat the big, winged monster which the show was named after. Legend says that everyone who sees Toruk’s shadow dies immediately after. But as with all family-friendly shows, they come through somehow.

Cooler than blue: Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk: The First Flight is a touching and exciting tale and is just as good as you expect it would be. | Photo by Errisson Lawrence. Costumes: Kym Barrett © 2015 Cirque du Soleil

While Toruk’s story is a simple one, it’s the performers and their storytelling that make it a must-see. Cirque du Soleil’s acrobatics didn’t fall short (literally) in taking our breath away. The contortions, 10-foot flips and aerial stunts performed are what you would expect from a Cirque show. But let’s talk about the puppets: I never thought that one could feel so much adoration towards a fictional animal character. Their use of props (that boat scene could rival The Notebook’s, TBH) were perfectly integrated with the scenes presented. However, what made Toruk even more special is their use of lights and sound in highlighting the acrobats’ every move.

In my humble, theater production nerd opinion, Toruk’s set and light design are reasons enough for you to check out the show. Leave your #basic expectations behind; Toruk’s use of floor projections (fun fact: they used 42 projectors), mechanical elevations and space will make any visual nerd tear up. One minute the floor is lava, the next it’s a flowing river. Their blocking and movement were perfectly timed to match the projection design.

The audience was also encouraged to light up the arena using the Toruk app, which can be downloaded before the show. The app asks you to input your seat number, and it adapts your phone’s screen to each scene so you can “interact.” It honestly felt more like a concert than a theater production, which is never a bad thing. (Pro tip: if you’re watching the show and you want to participate in the fun, make sure you have the app downloaded.)

From my limited experience in theater production, mounting a show as massive as this is no easy feat. Everything has to work perfectly, and Toruk’s cast and crew pulled it off. The SM MOA Arena is a huge space to transform into one solid set, and Toruk filled it up using projections, clever mobile props, and magnificently blocked acrobatics. We get to experience the Na’vi environment and culture so that the whole thing felt like watching The Sims live. From 10-foot tumbles to aerial dancing, Cirque du Soleil breathes new life into Avatar’s diverse story.

Catch Toruk: The First Flight at the SM MOA Arena until July 2. For tickets, visit SM Tickets’ website at smtickets.com.

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