Cirque du Soleil: Toruk – The First Flight lands in Auckland

The much-anticipated Cirque du Soleil: Toruk – The First Flight finally opened at Auckland’s Spark Arena last night. Inspired by James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar, it was a colourful spectacle that engulfed a huge performance space, but did it win over the audience?

We’re told by the narrator that ‘The Toruk’, a giant flying creature, is ‘the last shadow you see before you die’ but two young hunters are going to need to tame that beast in order to save their world and tribe. To do so they’ll have to go on a quest to find five talismans that will summon the Toruk and hopefully save them all.

So, let’s start with what I liked. You really can’t fault the slickness of this show; there’s lights, kites and lots of blue tights.  The performance area stretches across the whole floor of the arena and becomes the world of Pandora thanks to the sound, set and imagery all working perfectly together – credit to directors and multimedia innovators Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon. The projections are really effective; be it for a flood of water cascading across the audience onto the stage, or for the details on the large trunk set pieces. The use of light is hypnotically beautiful and the sound is immersive.

As for the performers, a highlight of the night was when five acrobats performed great feats of balance and bendiness on a huge skeleton. The puppeteer work was visually fantastic too, notable the scary dog beasts, six-legged horses and the main attraction – The Toruk. Lots of blue Na’vi leap and slide around the set (and around the audience) so easily, and with such dexterity, as to remind us all that we must get more exercise and make better use of these carcasses we lug around all day.

However, maybe this show really is one for the hardcode Avatar fans, as, despite the high production value and world-class performers, Toruk never quite took off for me. Usually the Cirque story is more of a tenuous link to a series of jaw-dropping acts that display graceful strength and the type of contortion that makes your eyes water, however, the storytelling here meant that there just wasn’t room for some of the more ‘wow’ acts that I have seen in other shows. The stage is always busy to the point that there’s probably too much to look at and the need to push the story forward actually made it less engaging, as I found myself just waiting for some bigger ‘moments’. While I appreciated the effort that had gone into creating Pandora with all its beauty and quirks, I just wasn’t truly captivated by the show overall.

There’s no doubt that Toruk – The First Flight is a visually pleasing outing but it just doesn’t navigate into the Cirque heights that I was expecting.

Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk: The First Flight is on at Auckland’s Spark Arena until 24 September.

Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar.