Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Cirque du Soleil Toruk—The First Flight
National Tour
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Guys and Dolls, Nunsense, The Music Man, and Love Is Here to Stay: A Gershwin Cabaret

The Cast
Photo by Jesse Faatz / Cirque du Soleil
For over thirty years Cirque du Soleil has impressed audiences with numerous productions playing around the world that are highlighted by the combination of performers with exceptional athletic agility and vibrant production values. However, the one thing most Cirque shows lack is a cohesive, coherent story line. One of Cirque's latest offerings, Toruk—The First Flight, which has been touring nationally for a year and was recently in Phoenix for a week long run, breaks the mold somewhat with a simple story that uses characters and settings based on James Cameron's hit 2009 film Avatar. The end result is an entertaining show filled with sensational eye-popping visuals, giant puppets and a refined sense of awe.

Toruk—The First Flight takes the setting and characters from the film but sets the story before the action of the movie. Set on a remote tropical moon with exotic creatures and plant life, the arena-sized production provides a vast landscape as a giant, blank canvas for the designers. Carl Fillion's set and props and Alain Lortie's lighting create the locales of the storyline in sensational colors and images. Their ability to represent an earthquake, an erupting volcano with realistic lava flowing, giant waterfalls and a river are just some of the superb visuals.

The story follows Ralu and Entu (Gabriel Christo and Jeremiah Hughes rotate as Ralu, and Guillaume Paquin and Daniel Crispin alternate as Entu), two Na'vi warriors who are members of the Omaticaya Clan and must collect five sacred objects in order to save their people from the threat of destruction by the planet's natural forces. The story plays more like a scavenger hunt game with the warriors continually encountering different tribes and creatures they must battle in order to collect the objects. Along their journey they also befriend Tsyal, a female member of the Tawkami Clan who joins them on their quest (Giulia Piloanti and Zoe Sabattie alternate as Tsyal).

While the story is slight and predictable, it is still enjoyable, even though there really is never a true sense of an antagonist or danger for the trio that we don't know from the beginning.

Narration is provided by the Storyteller (Raymond O'Neill who is appropriately stoic and clear in his delivery) who we learn in a somewhat emotional ending has a deep connection to this tale. As in most Cirque shows, the entire production is filled with a vast soundscape of noises and music, most of which are sung by Priscilia le Foll with a voice that soars with a refined clarity.

Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon wrote and directed Toruk and they found a way to incorporate the amazing athletic abilities closely associated with Cirque du Soleil performers into the show by having the three leads and the other tribesmen they encounter continually display their muscular prowess and athletic agility. While the addition of a storyline is good, especially for those who, like myself, want some sense of emotional connection to the characters on stage beyond the spectacle, there are several moments when our three leads don't do much more than serve as onlookers, which occasionally slows the piece down.

Patrick Martel has created some truly inspiring puppets, including a large and grand design for Toruk, the dragon who is the largest flying predator in the sky, and we learn the five objects when combined are able to tame Toruk in order to help save the planet. Kym Barrett's costumes expertly bring members of this well known tribe to life in a range of deep blue hues.

Including performers of refined agility with non-stop, changing, stunning, richly colorful and detailed visuals makes this a superb production for Crique fans as well as fans of the film, who will be overjoyed by how the Cirque magic recreates the world of Avatar in a large scale arena environment. Toruk—the First Flight presents a simple story of bravery and brotherhood and of overcoming your fears—lessons that everyone can relate to in this feast for the eyes, ears and mind.

Toruk—The First Flight played at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix from November 16th to November 20th, 2016. Visit for more information on this touring production.

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