I got to see the Cirque du Soleil production of “Toruk: The First Flight” on Sunday evening at the Save Mart Center, the last show of the Fresno run, and was so impressed with the visuals I’m thinking of dyeing myself blue. (I had been scheduled to see it opening night on Thursday, but my tummy was doing its own acrobatic flips. Thankfully, my Beehive colleague Kent Gaston was there to step in to cover for me.) Though we saw two different performances, Kent and I figured we’d wind down our experiences with a recap.
DONALD: Glad you liked the show so much, Kent, and, yes, I agree that the storyline didn’t always hang together. But compared to other Cirque shows through the years, whose so-called “narratives” vanished more quickly than a clump of cotton candy in the grubby fingers of a sugared-up 4-year old, this one actually made an attempt at a plot, spotty though it was sometimes. But we’ll wait to fall into some of the narrative holes later. First, let’s talk visuals. You already told us in your review how much you liked the red lava and water flowing down from the mountain in the climactic scene. I loved that, too. But I was pretty much smitten throughout, right from the moment the huge Tree of Life (the result of a stunning video projection system and a massive, inflatable rubber-and-steel set) “opened” to reveal all those stately Na’vi people spilling forth. They looked like a bunch of blue termites. A few days later, what else stands out to you visually?
KENT: I think as a few days have passed, I’m liking the animals more and more. They were a little bit random, but I thought the way they moved was really neat, especially the Toruk himself. And the shadows of birds and, what the heck, I’ll make something up, “Toruki,” were really fantastic. I actually found it quite sad when a viperwolf died.
DONALD: I loved the animals, too. It was very “Lion King.” I thought it was cool the way the viperwolves moved just like they did in the movie, with that long, loping gait that says “You’re my lunch and that’s the way it is.”
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KENT: Did the Na’vi look 10 feet tall from where you were? I think you sat a little higher up than I did, and if they were 10 feet tall, I’m a solid 18-footer.
DONALD: Ah, you see, I was completely put into the right scale of things by the nipple trick. Did you notice that? The nipples were a couple of inches higher on the costumes than you’d expect, a deliberate decision by the costume designers to exaggerate the characters’ height. Worked for me. I’m already altering the nipple placements on my own stretch lycra body suits I wear to the office; haven’t you noticed I look at least 6’2”?
Anyway, I want to mention one other amazing visual effect: the earthquakes. My body told me I wasn’t shaking, but my brain wanted to jump under a desk.
KENT: Oh yes! Amazing feat of sight and sound. Wowie, that’s one thunderous sound system. And yes, I did notice the Nippletrix tribe. And speaking of sound systems and other gear; a colleague who was at the show you attended said she counted 14 trucks and three buses.
DONALD: Let’s talk about tails for a moment. They’re a very important part of “Toruk.” All the Na’vi have ‘em, it seems. And even the animal “handlers,” dressed in black, had tails, too. One image stands out for me: in the scene in which members of the Anurai tribe (whom you refer to as the See-Saw on Dinosaur Bones Tribe), I watched one of the performers just before she got on the see-saw, and she carefully reached behind her, grabbed her long blue tail, and made sure it was out of the way before doing death-defying things. (“Please keep hands, feet and tails inside the car at all times,” the Na’vi roller coaster warning signs say.)
OK, Kent, time for a rapid-fire series of questions. First one: Which “water” effect did you like better, the boat in “Toruk” or the boat in “Phantom of the Opera”?
KENT: “Phantom.” Hello? Christine. “Toruk?” Turtapede. And I’m pretty sure we’re not supposed to be too attracted to Na’vi.
DONALD: If you were a teen Na’vi going through soul-searching angst after just failing your test of manhood, would it make it easier or harder to deal with your woe having a 10-foot-tall blue shaman woman wearing what looks like a Mardi Gras-themed tennis racket on her head scream-singing at you?
KENT: Ha, exactly! Let’s face it, she and her visions (was that headdress an antenna?) made miserable the lives of our three main Na’vi! Go pick on the Boomerang tribe, ma’am! The Boomerangi, I’ll make them.
DONALD: Did you ever figure out what those weird horses were that popped up in the second act? And while we’re at it, did you track all those talismans that were supposed to be collected?
KENT: I indeed lost track of the talismans, I think as soon as I figured out that the story wasn’t central to this thing. I remember Entu having to wear some sort of visor to fly, oh, 15 feet per hour on the Toruk, but the rest was gone. And ah, the six-legged horses! They sure moved with a cool gait, but I had no idea what they were doing there.
DONALD: Be honest with me: Did you get sad when the Toruk breathed its last, final, death-rattle of a breath? Poor guy.
KENT: Not as sad as for the viperwolf, for some odd reason. When it got pin-drop quiet in the Save Mart Center and the Toruk rasped his last breath, I elbowed my son, Alex, and said “Typical Fresno death. Asthma.”
DONALD: Now here’s something I bet I got to see that you didn’t, Kent … a mistake. In the final sequence, when the Tree of Souls is rising, one-quarter of it fell to the ground with a thud. The actors exited, the house lights went up, and five tech folks wearing black came out to fix things. (They did not have tails.) Cool fun fact: during the disruption, cast members went out into the lobby and took selfies with audience members. Finally, after about 20 minutes, things got rolling again, though by then the Tree of Souls looked a little worse for wear to me.
KENT: Yikes! At least no one was tempted to see it as part of the show. In my latest cultural enlightenment phase, ahem, I went to the WWE at Selland last week, and a guy actually got hurt rather badly! For a while we didn’t know if the EMTs were part of the game or not.
DONALD: I could see those Na’vi as being pretty fierce professional wrestlers, by the way. So: Would you ever consider redecorating your apartment in a Na’vi theme? I see lots of blues and pinks, some nice orange sails to put on the wall, a bunch of woodsprites to hang from the ceiling, and perhaps some nice Pier 1 baskets filled with colorful (if not extremely poisonous) bioluminescent plants. It could be a good look for you.
KENT: You peeked! Not sure what you mean about “re”-decorating!
DONALD: You’re holding the next newsroom “Avatar” party. Finally, I have a business proposition for you, Kent. Here’s my idea: We build a hotel in Fresno next to a bunch of sand, and then we use a Cirque-style video projection system to create a beach. Just think: all the ambiance of the seaside, with no salt water to wash out of your hair. And “beachfront property” much cheaper here than on the coast. We'll make a million.
KENT: And barbecued Turtapedes for our guests!