Review: Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk is all heart

The new production by the dance company is inspired by the James Cameron film 'Avatar'

Toruk - The First Flight. 
The photo credits must appear in the following manner: Photo: Jesse Faatz Costumes: Kym Barrett  © 2015 Cirque du Soleil
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Cirque du Soleil has been pushing the bar – both literally and creatively – for over 30 years.

When it comes to the UAE, the Montreal based dance and production company has been entertaining audiences for close to a decade.

After the success of their maiden tour in 2009, a stint that included more than 80 shows, the company has included the UAE in virtually every major trek since.

With the productions Dralion and Verakai, performed in the country in 2013 and 2016 respectively, and the recent premiere of the permanent Dubai show La Perle by former Cirque Du Soleil choreographer Franco Dragone, it is safe to say UAE audiences are well versed with the lavish sets and eye-popping acrobatics that are the hallmark of the company.

This is what makes the latest venture Toruk: First Flight such a departure.

Where Cirque Du Soleil shows are often created in-house, this is the first production tied to a film.

Also gone are the abstract plots that come with the Cirque Du Soleil shows. Toruk has a clear, honest to goodness, storyline split neatly in two halves: three young Navians (the blue man-like creatures from the film Avatar) embark on a mission to save their planet, Pandora, from ecological disaster by finding a legendary bird residing high in the mountains.

As part of the quest, narrated by an elder alien with a sonorous Shakespearean accent, the trio must also collect amulets from Pandora’s different tribes in order to summon the mighty bird.

With the stage placed in the centre of the Sheikh Saeed Hall of the Dubai World Trade Centre, and the seating spread in a horseshoe formation, you would be hard-pressed to find a bad view of the action.

Everything about the stage design is uber-lush. When the production manager Ken Mills told The National last week that it took four jumbo cargo planes to fly over all the production elements making up Toruk, that's no idle boast.

Everything about the show is made in painstaking detail; dance platforms double up as gardens and chutes open to unveil multi-coloured flowers. A make-shift mountain stands heroically in the back with cutting-edge projection responsible for the life-like water that flows from within.

The lighting is subtle yet precise, shifting effortlessly from the warm glow of summer to an icy blue in an instant.

With the three youth visiting different areas of Pandora, each tribe is afforded their own stage design and choreography.

The Tawkami Clan's hot and earthy surroundings are exemplified by lush tree life and colourful fabrics which double up as giant butterflies. The tribesmen's athletic warrior dance is reminiscent of the Brazilian martial arts inspired movements of the capoeira.

While the Anurai Clan live in a more barren landscape (lit in a lonely blue); renowned for their areal skills they jump and swing adeptly over a pivoting dragon-like skeleton. The Tipani specialise in weaponry, their thrilling acrobatics consisted of swinging of Chinese poles shaped like spears.

In the middle of it all, there are short dance interludes that involve a regal routine with kites in addition to an eye-popping boomerang display that should elicit a family debate as to whether it was all remote controlled.

It is true Toruk is not full of the heart-stopping acrobatics that defined previous shows.

But the thrill is replaced with heart; the environmentalist message coursing through the show is delivered by the soulful performances of the dancers whose facial expressions run the gamut from hope and joy to fear and ultimately resilience.

That added bit of drama marks Toruk as another significant achievement for Cirque Du Soleil.

Toruk is on at the Dubai World Trade Centre until January 16. For tickets visit


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