Cirque’s ‘Toruk: The First Flight,’ inspired by ‘Avatar,’ at T-Mobile Arena from Jan. 18-22

For one week only to start off the New Year, Cirque du Soleil will present an eighth spectacular on the Strip, and for the first time the circus entertainment company will take over T-Mobile Arena for the production.

Tickets go on sale today to Cirque Club members for the touring show inspired by James Cameron’s record-breaking, Oscar-winning movie “Avatar.” The public sale begins Friday for “Toruk: The First Flight” at the arena from Jan.18-22 as part of a global tour in arenas.

“Toruk: The First Flight” transports audiences as depicted in the movie to the world of Pandora in a visually stunning setting. The experience becomes a storytelling odyssey through a new world of imagination and discovery.

This immersive experience bears the signature of directors and multimedia innovators Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon. It is a living ode to the Na’vi symbiotic coexistence with nature and belief in the interconnectedness of living things.

Narrated by a Na’vi storyteller and populated by characters, “Toruk: The First Flight” is a mythical tale set thousands of years before the events depicted in “Avatar” and before humans set foot on Pandora. The production is a fusion of visuals, puppetry and stagecraft buoyed by a cinematic score.

Cirque applies its signature style to James’ imaginary world and makes the bond between kindred artistic visions that capture the imagination. When a natural catastrophe threatens to destroy the sacred Tree of Souls, Ralu and Entu, two Omatikaya boys on the brink of adulthood, decide to take matters into their own hands.

Upon learning that Toruk can help them save the Tree of Souls, they set out together with their newfound friend Tsyal on a quest up the Floating Mountains to find Toruk, a red-and-orange predator who rules the Pandoran sky. Prophecy is fulfilled when a pure soul rises among the clans to ride Toruk for the first time and save the Na’vi from a terrible fate.

The creative team for “Toruk: The First Flight” comprised 13 creators under the artistic guidance of Cirque founder Guy Laliberte and Jean-François Bouchard for Cirque du Soleil and James, Jon Landau, Kathy Franklin and Richie Baneham for film producers Lightstorm Entertainment.

“Avatar” dates back to 1994 when writer, director and producer James wrote an 80-page treatment for the film to follow in 2007 his shooting schedule for “Titanic.” The director delayed developing the fictional universe until 2006, saying necessary technology wasn’t yet available.

Hollywood insider reports said the budget was about $240 million. No budget figure has been released for the Cirque touring theatrical version, but insiders whisper that it’s close to the $200 million “Ka” at MGM Grand.

“Avatar” had its world premiere in England in December 2009 and on Dec. 16 in the United States and Canada. It broke box office records and became the highest-grossing film of all time surpassing “Titanic,” which held the record for 12 years. “Avatar” was the first film to gross more than $2 billion and was the top film of 2010. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won three. To date, its box office is $2.788 billion.

James this year confirmed that his partnership with 20th Century Fox calls for four sequels, with “Avatar 2” set for December 2018 and the others in 2020, 2022 and 2023. “Avatar” starred Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang and Michelle Rodriguez.

“Toruk” was developed in Montreal at Cirque headquarters, but rehearsals took place at Century Link Center in Bossier City, Louisiana, because it could hold the massive sets unable to fit into Cirque’s studios in Quebec. The stage measures 85 feet by 162 feet. Toruk is the main character of the show and brought to life along with the animals of Pandora as 16 life-sized puppets. Ralu, Entu and Tsyal are the three main protagonists of “Toruk” narrated by a Na’vi storyteller.

Multimedia projections, which overflow the set into the audience, evoke the landscapes from the movie showing the Floating Mountains, Omaticaya Hometree, Anurai’s animal sanctuary and jungle homes of the Tawkami.

Large-scale effects include an earthquake, volcano eruption and lava rivers. The projection surface, not including the audience reach, is more than five times the size of an IMAX screen. Forty video projectors are used in the production.

There is an “island” at the center of the stage on which performers move about that houses a fire pit, circular drum and Tree of Souls, an inflatable structure in a trench under the stage floor. The tree structure is inflated as it is hoisted from the trench using cables attached to the structure above the stage.

The branches of the tree are covered in thousands of LED lights. The dream catcher is a structure suspended 45 feet above the island. It houses props and set elements, including a plant 35 feet in diameter that serves as an acrobatic device.

The costume department produced more than 1,000 items including shoes, headpieces and necklaces for the 115 costumes, an average of 3.3 costumes per artist. There are 18 kites in the show, one being a 64.5-square-foot giant traction kite that flies out over the audience during the scene in the Hallelujah Mountains. Audiences report feeling a gust of wind as it whooshes overhead. During the Kekunan Clan scene, 12 kite flyers perform simultaneously onstage.

The show, at 2 hours with a 20-minute intermission, could only be staged at T-Mobile Arena for its Las Vegas stop and not in any Cirque theater on the Strip. The show’s premiere was Dec. 21 in Montreal and is on a West Coast leg of its North American tour and after the run here travels to Mexico and China.

“Toruk” is the 37th production by Cirque since it was founded in 1984 when 73 people worked for the company. Today there are nearly 4,000 employees, including 1,300 artists. More than 155 million have seen a Cirque show since 1984. This year in addition to “Toruk,” Cirque will present 18 shows around the world, six of which are resident productions here.

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