Arts Preview: ‘TORUK: The First Flight’

By / Culture / July 28, 2016

Cirque du Soleil shoots through space with an ‘Avatar’-inspired show.

Between outrageous characters, mind-blowing stunts and a through-the-looking-glass storytelling style, there’s often an other-worldliness to the spectacle that is Cirque du Soleil. With its latest travelling show — “TORUK: The First Flight” — the trailblazing Canadian company reaches for the stars, whipping up a wonder inspired by James Cameron’s big-screen sci-fi fantasy, “Avatar.”

The 2009 film follows the human quest to retrieve a new energy source from a faraway moon known as Pandora; the Cirque show imagines that world centuries before avatars from planet Earth went nosing about. “The story of our show is a bit more simple than the story of the movie,” says Michel Lemieux, who created the show with Victor Pilon and playwright Olivier Kemeid. “It’s about the quest of three young characters on the brink of becoming adults, about the relationship between the three of them and the way that is transformed by the trials that come during their story.”

Arts073116-2_1200pxLike any Cirque production, “TORUK” is replete with eye-popping visual effects and infused with a breathtaking dynamism born of the performers’ physical daring and kinetic expressiveness. But in something of a departure, the piece includes a more clearly articulated plot, with a narrator leading the way. “A Cirque du Soleil show normally has a lot of characters, but you don’t know the story of their lives, their emotions, so it becomes a bit abstract,” Lemieux says. “In this show, it’s more set.”

Fantastic puppets — including one cross between an ostrich, pink flamingo and dinosaur — 18 kites, live and recorded music and images cast from 40 video projectors are key components in conjuring an imagined world that can rival anything seen on the big screen. Yet for all the technique and wizardry at play, the show’s creators hope audiences will not only be amazed by the action onstage, but connect to the tale “TORUK” tells. “The first time James Cameron saw a dress rehearsal of the show,” Lemieux says, “he said, ‘I’ve seen all the Cirque du Soleil shows and for the first time I really see a group of artists.  I really feel the troupe, I really feel what I wanted to put in my movie — the clan, the tribe, this group of people who are really interconnected with each other.’ ”

‘TORUK: The First Flight’
August 3-7, United Center, 1901 W. Madison. For tickets (starting at $42), call 1-(800)-745-3000 or visit


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