REVIEW: Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk: Tech 9, Writing 4
We saw the opening night of Cirque du Soleil last night. As I wrote in my preview article, the show is not a tent show, it’s an arena show, full of puppets, projections, and acrobatics, based on the movie Avatar by James Cameron. Here’s the plot summary I wrote in my previous article:
When a natural catastrophe threatens to destroy the sacred Tree of Souls, two boys on the brink of adulthood decide to take matters into their own hands. They and their newfound friend Tsyal, search for a flying predator (Toruk) that can help them in their quest. A prophecy is fulfilled when a pure soul rises among the clans to ride Toruk for the first time and save the Na’vi from a terrible fate.
Well, the good news is that as predicted, the technical elements of the show were stunning. The costumes, puppetry, lights, and sound design were all amazing. And the technical performances of all the people performing were great. Their makeup was sensational, everybody hit their mark, every performer nailed their tricks (although there were many less amazing tricks in this show than in nearly any other Cirque show I’ve ever seen.)
The only technical element that was underwhelming was the app. They created an app that was supposed to enhance your interactivity in the show, but for the most part, it seemed to not do very much. For example, it asked you to shake your phone to bring the fireflies. Well, I shook and tapped my phone, and little specks of light appeared on my phone, but not in the arena, and they didn’t come over to me. There was no cause and effect that I could discern. Other moments in the app were for you to turn your phone to the theatre and it displayed viperwolf eyes, (and the idea is that you’d see thousands of them throughout the arena) But I just saw people holding up their phones. Based on my experience, I don’t think much is added to your enjoyment by using the app. It’s a great idea, getting the audience more involved, but at least at this time, the execution was lacking.
The other place where I had a serious problem was the story of the show. Most Cirque shows start with a premise, and then somewhere among all the spectacle and acrobatics we lose the storyline, but it doesn’t matter. In this case, it was kind of the opposite. They adhered to the story almost too slavishly, and the acrobatics weren’t enough of a distraction/add on to make the trite and unsurprising story palatable. They said the heroes needed to find five objects and they found them 1,2,3,4,5. There were small obstacles, but they were all easily surmounted. There was no surprise, the rhythm of the story, the beats of the story were all exactly the same. And at the end the narrator (who at times sounded like he was narrating a documentary about animals more than telling the story of the show) gives the parable: everything is connected. And of course this is not a big surprise, nor is it a revelation of any kind. It is a hackneyed observation that we knew before the show began.
The story was a fake myth from an alien land featuring aliens– and there just wasn’t enough human behavior in it to make it interesting. Perhaps if I knew the movie Avatar it would be more comprehensible or interesting, but I shouldn’t need to know the nitty gritty to get what was happening. I got it, but it wasn’t that interesting. I’m sad to say, but in a snarky way I started rooting for the cool puppet flying/predator Toruk to take out the two heroes! Then at least there would have been a plot twist.
I’m not saying the acrobatics were bad, because they weren’t; they were excellent. But they weren’t surprising or virtuosic enough to make up for the story that wasn’t surprising or virtuosic enough. The most exciting “Wow” factor in this show were the costumes and props and projections.
The last thing I want to say about it is that even in operatic tragedies, there is comedy and light moments. The light moments here were few and far between. It needed the leavening of comedy to make the play rise and fly.
So, I’d recommend the show if you are a Cirque or Avatar completist, or if you’ve never seen Cirque before or you are a big fan of puppetry and light shows. People that aren’t in the know about Cirque may well be wowed by the precision acrobatics, but I wasn’t. I wanted more. You should be warned that this is not a typical Cirque show, and if you go in expecting to see that, you will be disappointed. Taken on its own merits, the show is well-done, well-produced, and an astonishing visual spectacle, but it sadly does not soar to the astounding, electrifying, and virtuosic performances that Cirque has made me come to expect.