Premiere Reviews of TORUK

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Premiere Reviews of TORUK

The Montreal Gazette:

The Cirque du Soleil’s new touring arena show Toruk – The First Flight, which had its world premiere Monday night at the Bell Centre, is chock full of stunning visuals, stirring choreography and maybe the most eye-popping set ever seen at the Habs rink. There are many pleasure to be had.

The story, sadly, is not quite as captivating. It is inspired by Canadian filmmaker James Cameron’s blockbuster hit Avatar and like that movie, it is set on the faraway moon named Pandora. But it’s a prequel, taking place some 3,000 years before the action portrayed in the film.

As promised, this is indeed the most narrative show the absurdly popular Montreal circus has ever delivered. For the first time ever, the Cirque has a narrator on stage and The Storyteller, played by Montreal actor Sébastien Dodge, delivers a recap of the action every few minutes. In fact, the use of a real language is also a first for the Cirque. Dodge speaks in French for the Montreal run, though there are two shows with English narration (Dec. 23 and Dec. 28). Toruk heads out on a tour across North America after the Bell Centre run and naturally the narration for the other dates, other than in Quebec City, will be in the language of Shakespeare.

While we’re on the subject of the Bard, let’s just say that the writing here is a notch or two below Shakespeare’s wordplay. I know, I know, it’s unfair to compare most anyone to the world’s most famous playwright but the fact is that the writing here just quite literally brings the Cirque back down to Earth.

Until now, the Cirque shows always had the loosest most threadbare of stories and we never cared because we were having so much fun soaking up the dazzling acrobatic acts and the Cirque’s innovative oh-so-Québécois blend of avant-garde theatre, modern dance and bopping world-music.

There is little of that classic Cirque fare in Toruk. Yes there’s dance and music, much of it quite beautiful, but don’t go expecting the kind of show-stopping high-wire acts that have been the outfit’s calling card since the very beginning.

Now the story is front-and-centre, written by co-directors Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, with the help of playwright Olivier Kemeid. And how do I put this politely? Well let’s just say it doesn’t bear careful scrutiny.

At the start, there’s a giant volcanic eruption on Pandora and it looks like the sacred Tree of Souls is to be destroyed. That’s when two Na’vi teens, Ralu (Gabriel Christo) and Entu (Guillaume Paquin), best buds since childhood, decide they will be heroes and go seek out the Toruk, a giant predator of the skies, to save Pandora. Along the way they will hook up with a young woman Tsyal (Giulia Piolanti) who is initially reluctant to join the trek but eventually returns in a canoe to pick them up and continue on towards Toruk.

There is also much dialogue between the three of them in Na’vi, the language made up for the film, and the performers have microphones, also novel for the Cirque.

The show kicks off in high style with a highly-charged sequence powered by the energetic percussion work of Daudet Fabrice Grazai but it’s really in the second act that you begin to fully appreciate the handiwork of Lemieux and Pilon who have crafted an astonishing multi-media spectacle using 40 video projectors that showcase the visuals on a 20,000-square-foot surface. There’s a tremendous moment when visuals of waves wash through the crowd and then crash on to the set.

And those same projectors create one stunning visual tableau after one, in effect producing a new decor for each scene. Lemieux and Pilon have spent the past couple of decades dreaming up wonderful shows that mix every media imaginable, some with the Cirque, many in other settings, and so it’s no surprise that the real force of the show is that heady blend of visual flair and poetic stage smarts that’s always been their trademark.

Set designer Carl Fillion has done a magnificent job of re-creating Pandora with a set that takes up almost the entire ice surface, anchored by the giant Omaticaya Home Tree and a rock island jutting up from the ground. Then there are Patrick Martel’s giant puppets, these strange surreal creatures operated by puppeteers usually in full view, or in the case of the Direhorses, with two guys inside the horse puppet, with their legs standing in for the horse’s legs. I couldn’t help thinking it was a little like that genius moment in Monty Python and The Holy Grail when the guys are pretending to be horses and making the horse-clopping sound by banging together coconuts.

There’s also a bunch of kite sequences that are like nothing you’ve ever seen before. You just don’t normally think of choreographing the motion of kites and it somehow works. In other words, kudos to choreographers Tuan Le and Tan Loc.

And hats off to Lemieux and Pilon for creating this visual feast. No one does awesome sound-and-light show like these Montreal hipsters.

But where was the story editor? Where was the voice of reason to step in and tell the Cirque creative team – hang on a second, this text simply isn’t strong enough to use as the foundation of a two-hour show and, more to the point, much of it doesn’t even really make sense. Like what is it with the sacred objects the three teens are searching for? If you know what that’s all about, let me know.

(http://montrealgazette.com/entertainment/arts/review-of-the-cirque-du-so...)

Mungojerrie2010's picture
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Great review. I always look forward to reading what the Gazette has to say about Cirque's latest creations.

"All your dreams can come true. IF you have to courage to pursue them."-Walt Disney

The Trickster's picture
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I mean they seemed to like it.

Richasi's picture
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Yeah, it wasn't as glowing as I was looking for (as I said on HCF), but, he seemed to like it okay. I'm still interested in seeing the show. I want to see the programme and CD. :)

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Here's The Globe and Mail's:

When Cirque du Soleil was new, there was novelty in a circus that focused entirely on the human body, with no animals to tame or do tricks with. In that sense, it’s a surprise to find that the dominant figures in the newest Cirque offering are giant animal puppets.

Toruk – The First Flight spins off from Avatar, the 2009 blockbuster film set on a remote tropical moon crowded with flying dragons, viperwolves and hammer-headed dinosaurs. The show, which opened in Montreal’s Centre Bell on Monday, is a troubling redface spectacle in which the human performers spend much time handling puppets, not so much doing the kind of acrobatic feats for which Cirque became known.

Avatar told the story of blue indigenous humanoids under siege by rapacious humans, and of a white disabled ex-Marine who achieves the Grey Owl-ish fantasy of becoming more native than the natives. Toruk is set before the invaders arrive, and the Na’vi people are threatened this time with destruction by natural forces.

The show has the narrative structure of an adventure video game, in which two Na’vi warriors must collect five sacred objects to save their people. Along the way, they encounter a menagerie of beasts from Avatar, including flying banshees, six-legged horses and Toruk, the biggest flying predator in the sky.

The real stars of Toruk are the designers: Patrick Martel (puppets), Carl Fillion (set and props) and Alain Lortie (lighting). The show’s vast scenic projections make the craggy playing area a constantly changing world of wonders, culminating in a virtual flood that sweeps across the stage from projected waterfalls.

The human participants, who are supposed to be three metres high, often look puny in this milieu. Those who aren’t manipulating savage dogs or giant flowers mostly scamper about and do decorative flips and leaps, occasionally climbing up something to spin or somersault onto a mat. It’s pretty small beer by Cirque standards, though the tableau at any given moment looks like the best National Geographic photo feature that you will never see.

Even the protagonists have little to do once the quest gets rolling, other than to mime fear or astonishment as the next big puppet floats in. The heroes become part of the audience, like Marie and the Nutcracker watching the pageant of dances in the second half of The Nutcracker.

There’s no dramatic tension, because we know the lads will win somehow, and because the puppets and a ponderous narrator impose a stately rhythm on the show. Toruk is made for Avatar fans who want to see its world recreated in an arena, and who may be content to see how inventive writer-directors Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon can be about ticking off specimens from the film’s flora and fauna.

As a fantasy about indigenous people, however, Toruk is obnoxious to a degree that Avatar wasn’t. The Na’vi in the film were facing naked colonial violence, and an explicit threat of cultural genocide. You could see the movie as an environmental parable about the kinds of colonial relationships still active in many parts of the world, including Canada. But there are no white people in Toruk, and in their absence, the whole elaborate spectacle descends into redface.

This kind of redface doesn’t recycle negative stereotypes of native people, only the noble ones. Toruk presents a fabricated indigenous society of a kind that many white people would like to see in the world. It leaves out everything that may seem alien or threatening about real indigenous people.

The imaginary Indian, to borrow a term from historian Daniel Francis, has a long history in Canada, but as our new Prime Minister says, this is 2015.

Anyone who has any inkling about what’s in the recently issued Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will have a hard time accepting Toruk as a benign entertainment. It’s also propaganda, for a continued state of willed oblivion about real indigenous societies.

Mungojerrie2010's picture
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I think their insinuation that Cirque is engaging in a form of redface is laughable. And it also is very apparent the reviewer didn't bother to research the backstory of the show before going. Cirque's initial press release on TORUK explicitly stated this show would be set years before the events in the film which means, to me at least, the Na'vi culture was in a state of peace.

"All your dreams can come true. IF you have to courage to pursue them."-Walt Disney

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Ridiculous....

RB