The woodsprites are ready to do their thing.
High above the floor of the Save Mart Center on Tuesday, as technicians for the new touring production of “Toruk: The First Flight” scurry about preparing the massive set for a Thursday opening, you can see the white, jellyfish-like seeds of the Tree of Souls from the movie “Avatar” in position for their translucent descent.
The woodsprites are just one of thousands of details to attend to for the Cirque du Soleil show, which imagines the world of Pandora in “Avatar” 3,000 years before the events of the movie.
After I received a behind-the-scenes tour, here are some news and notes about the show, which runs for six performances Thursday, Oct. 27, through Sunday, Oct 30.
It’s a prequel. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again (look for my review of Thursday’s opening night performance online Friday): Don’t go to “Toruk” expecting a re-enactment of the movie “Avatar.” There are no humans in the production. Instead, the show dives into the mythology of the Na’vi, the people created by James Cameron for the movie.
Back from vacation. “Toruk” last played in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the cast and crew got a two-week break before coming to Fresno.
The set is, well, really big. Cirque is getting away from having floor seating for its arena shows, which means more space for the stage. Plus, “Toruk” is bigger than most Cirque shows that have come to the Save Mart Center, using three-quarters of the arena floor compared to closer to half, as in other shows. (The very first Cirque show in Fresno, 2006’s “Delirium,” used the entire floor for a stage.) The set is made mostly of inflatable rubber and steel, which makes it easier to transport.
Be prepared for cutting-edge projections. The production uses 40 video cameras to turn the gray set into a vibrant “screen.” (A white set would make the effect look fake.) One of the first things the production team of 40 technicians did upon arriving in Fresno was to do a full three-dimensional map of the Save Mart floor and seating configuration so the projections can be adjusted.
You’ll see some familiar “Avatar” creatures. In the backstage area, I get up close with Viperwolves and Direhorses, which you’ll find in the movie. Others were created from scratch for the Cirque production, such as Austrapedes and the Turtapede, a “lived-in puppet” (the performer is inside) described as a turtle and starfish blended into one. All have the blessing of “Avatar” creator James Cameron, by the way.
Dial back on the acrobatic expectations. This show promises more narrative and visual splendor and fewer acrobats. And, in what seems now a particularly timely advantage, there are none of those annoying Cirque clowns.
Think scale. Remember that the Na’vi are 10 feet in height, so keep that in mind as you watch the show. The producers slipped in various ways to make you think tall, from the build of the performers to the costume design. (One trick revealed: the nipples painted on the skin-tight Na’vi costumes are actually a few inches higher than where human anatomy would dictate, creating a slightly “taller” optical illusion.)
Bring your phone. You can download the special “Toruk” app on the iTunes store beforehand. As you watch the show, you’ll be given instructions what to do, adding to the show’s visual impact. Depending on the city, as many as 80 percent of audience members have participated by using the app.
Toruk: The First Flight
- Opens Thursday, Oct. 27, and runs through Sunday, Oct. 30
- Save Mart Center