If you are wondering why someone would resurrect the 2009 film, Avatar, by James Cameron as a live show, please remember that the cast is painted blue, have tails, and live on another planet. Cirque du Soleil is remarkable at creating atmosphere, and putting their dazzling flair on the cold CGI film is like watching a parade–you don’t even notice the buildings, because you’re blinded by the confetti.
I brought my 7-year-old son with me to Barclays Center to see Toruk: The First Flight, because it is being billed as a family friendly show. (For fans of Cirque, this means no trademark nudity.) From the time we sat down, we were both awestruck with visuals of earthquakes, waterfalls and volcanic eruptions. The deep-set stage is like a gladiator pit showing epic battles, tribal truces, and the rescue of the “tree of souls.” Blue human hybrids were conducting an aerial ballet, while speaking a made-up language and flying blimp sized kites.
“Do you understand the story?” I asked my son, as a voice narrated the quest for five secret amulets. “Ha ha! There’s no plot to this show!” my son replied. And he was right; that was secondary when you’re watching people construct a dinosaur out of bones and then somersault on top of it. “It’s a skeleton see-saw!” my son rejoiced.
Taking a cue from The Lion King, the show includes animal puppetry (people holding frames of animals) in the forms of zebras, birds, a giant tortoise, and snarling, menacing “viperwolves.” At the top of the second act, a viperwolf dies. My son whispered to me “Is that a real viperwolf? And before you say no, why is it making so much noise?” The state-of-the-art sound system blasted howls, dinosaur roars, incessant drumming and the climactic musical soundtrack. If your child is sensitive to sound, scary animals, or puppet mortality, the show may be slightly overwhelming. The other scary moment was when the hero tries to ride the Toruk, a dragon/ bird that flies into the arena and battles fiercely before (spoiler) being tamed and saving the planet.
All the kids around us (from the 4-year-old in the next seat to the tweens in front) were glued to the stage, forfeiting their early bedtimes to watch a true spectacle. I was impressed by the insane acrobatics, while my son was equally astonished by the smaller feats, like when a guy jumped into a canoe without falling, or when someone threw and caught a boomerang. “I’m going to tell all my friends to see this!” he said. But the show is probably best suited for ages 9+, to avoid the risks of sitting through a 2.5 hour performance (including a 20 minute intermission), dozing off early (although there are matinee performances) or nightmares. But certainly most ages will be wowed; and you’re never too old to entertain your inner child with plotless acts of great daring and strength.
Toruk: The First Flight, Brooklyn: Barclays Center, September 7-11, 7:30pm, tickets starting at $40 (evening, early and matinee shows available). Newark: Prudential Center, September 15-18, tickets starting at $43 (evening, early and matinee shows available).