The SingaporeMotherhood Team head to the circus for the ultimate experience of Cirque du Soleil’s TORUK – The First Flight.
Well, we didn’t quite get to join the circus, but we did get invited backstage for a brief tour of what goes on behind the scenes at a Cirque du Soleil production. That took place just hours before the Singapore premiere of the world-acclaimed production of TORUK – The First Flight. What we saw and learnt left us looking forward even more to the big show later in the evening!
The Story of TORUK
Inspired by the movie AVATAR, TORUK – The First Flight brings to the stage James Cameron’s imaginary world of Pandora. In classic Cirque du Soleil style, of course. Consider it a prequel, set 3,000 years ahead of the movie’s timeline, long before humans set foot on Pandora. As narrated by The Storyteller, the mythical world is populated by five clans of the Na’vi people. When a natural catastrophe threatens to destroy the sacred Tree of Souls, three young people decide to set out on a search for Toruk, a fearsome predator that rules the Pandoran sky.
But first, let’s go backstage. Exploring the underbelly of the Singapore Indoor Stadium, the first thing that came to mind was: It’s huge! And yet, according to Janie Mallet, show publicist and our tour guide, it’s rather smaller than what they’re used to. But no worries, Cirque du Soleil is made up of creative people both on stage and off, and they devised clever ways of utilising the space efficiently.
Apart from a preview of costumes, puppets, props and even a rehearsal happening on stage, we also got to chat with two cast members who are on their first Cirque du Soleil tour. After undergoing gruelling physical training and endless rehearsals, they are excited to showcase their talents on the Singapore stage. They’re also loving their first visit to the Lion City – “How can you have such beautiful greenery in the middle of a big city?!” exclaimed one. Janie even likened the Singapore Botanic Gardens to the parts of the mythical world of Pandora.
The Splendour of Pandora
Speaking of Pandora, the visually stunning movie-scapes are brought to the stage through a series of intricate video projections. The stage in the Singapore Indoor Stadium plays the role of a giant canvas on which projections form virtual artwork. There are large-scale effects such as an earthquake and more subtle ones like bioluminescent trails performers leave in the forest. Some even ‘overflow’ right into the audience’s space, making us feel like we were actually there too!
Then there are the giant props furnishing the world of the Na’vi. It starts with an undulating lush Green Belt across the stage that three-dimensional plants sometimes emerge from. A huge Dream Catcher is suspended 45 feet above, incorporating many set elements used as acrobatic devices. In the middle of the stage, there’s the Island where the Tree of Souls resides. These and more, together with the projections, add varied textures and an organic feel to the show.
Bringing the Characters to Life
Sadly, we didn’t get to witness the cast in costumes or putting on their famous blue makeup backstage. However, we did view some of the Na’vi costumes and intricate headgear awaiting their wearers in the quick-change area. This is where the performers switch out costumes in between scenes at speeds Superman would be proud of.
The performers’ base skin fabrics – all 25 variations of them – are overlaid with costumes of all kinds. It’s eye-boggling, to say the least! We also learnt that there isn’t just one shade of blue. After all, we humans don’t all share the same skin tone, so why should the Na’vi? Countless hours are spent ‘remodelling’ the performers’ faces to give them the wider nose and larger eyes of the Na’vi. To add to the diversity, the puppeteers wear an all-black version of the Na’vi costume.
And making the characters believable doesn’t stop in the dressing room. Everything from simple gestures to complex acrobatic stunts are specifically choreographed to create the Na’vi movement. Performers even have to unlearn movements they’ve perfected through years of acrobatic training and simply being human, to accurately portray what it is to be Na’vi.
Animating the Creatures
Then there were larger-than-life ‘puppets’ – the creatures of Pandora – that were inspired by their movie counterparts. While some were done to James Cameron’s specs, others are brand new species. The frisky Direhorse, for example, is a muscular six-legged creature directly inspired by the movie. Each is animated by two puppeteers within, who can only ‘see’ where they’re going via cameras embedded in the costume. They even stand on platform shoes to make the creature appear more impressive.
Then there are a colony of Mountain Banshees that are represented by large, multi-coloured kites. The most impressive has to be the giant 64.5-square-foot traction kite which sends a gust of wind over the audience as it glides by. Inspired to go kite-flying this June hols? You can get one as a souvenir during the 20-minute intermission or after the show.
Of course, the most breathtaking creature has to be the eponymous Toruk – it boasts a 40-foot wingspan! It is represented by a gigantic marionette resembling a prehistoric bird, except that the ‘strings’ manipulating it are beneath. It takes six puppeteers to breathe life into the fierce and majestic Toruk.
The Prophecy Fulfilled
The fictional prophecy is fulﬁlled when a ‘pure soul’ emerges from the clans to ride Toruk for the ﬁrst time. Together, they save the Na’vi from devastation – but we won’t tell you how. For us, the audience, our expectations for the production were equally fulfilled, even exceeded. So, go watch the show and experience it for yourselves!
Indeed, TORUK – The First Flight is a spectacular stage production and fitting tribute to the movie that inspired it. If you loved AVATAR, then you have to catch TORUK. Best of all, it’s a family-friendly production – just ask 14-month-old audience member Christopher, who remained riveted from start to finish!
TORUK – The First Flight
When 24 May to 3 June 2018
Where Singapore Indoor Stadium, 2 Stadium Walk
Admission $98, $128, $158, $188 (not inclusive of booking fee)
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