Qudos Bank Arena, October 19
Perhaps it depends on expectations. If the tie-up between Toruk – The First Flight and James Cameron’s movie Avatar breeds anticipation of a gripping story you will be disappointed. I’ve had cheese pretzels with more narrative content. If it leads you to expect magical worlds of improbable flora and fauna you will be partially satisfied. If you are merely eager for another bout of Cirque du Soleil acrobatics and extravagant production values you’ll leave smiling.
This is not the movie rendered on stage: it is a kind of mystical prequel, with different characters and no nasty humans to interfere with the good Na’vi burghers on their Pandora paradise. Characterization might have filled the void created by the slender quest-style story, except that these meagre characters deepen the void into a black hole.
Toruk has three things going for it: spectacle, spectacle and spectacle. More than the ensemble’s impressive acrobatic and aerial skills this is thanks to the design, lighting, puppetry and, above all, projection elements. Some of the projections are so stupendous that they warp one’s perspective on place, space, shape and time. The lighting is often similarly wondrous, as is the sound design, even if the music itself – recorded rather than live – is mostly embarrassing.
The visual triumphs don’t begin to mask the absence of a beating heart at the show’s centre, however. If you are going to dress up circus as theatre then let it be coloured not just by lights, but by a little emotional content, surely. The spoken words are so wooden and melodramatic as to only fool the youngest children. This is theatre on the level of an Olympic opening ceremony, and if that’s your thing, you will love it.
The frustration is that the very pretence of a narrative seems to stymie the circus routines into being overly repetitive. The puppetry, meanwhile, is a new development for Cirque du Soleil, and although the dog-like Viperwolves lack the intended bite, the realisation of the flying Toruk (courtesy of six puppeteers) is sensational. Briefly.