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Early this week Cirque du Soleil revealed details about the UK debut of their immersive spectacle TORUK – The First Flight. Set to arrive next summer, the touring show will play at Manchester Arena from 20 – 23 June 2019 and at London’s O2 Arena from 26 – 30 June 2019.
TORUK is different from any other production that the world-famous circus troupe has created. Not only is it based on a film (James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar), but it also utilises multimedia projections, massive set pieces and large-scale puppetry in ways that are making jaws drop all over the world.
At Ticketmaster, we can hardly wait to dive into the richly imaginative world of Pandora, so it was a thrill to talk to Cirque du Soleil’s Janie Mallet, who came to London for the big announcement. You can see photos from that event of cast members atop the O2 Arena here.
Not only did she give us the lowdown on TORUK ahead of its 2019 dates, but she also discussed the collaborative process that went into creating the mythical tale. Plus, we found out about an apparatus called the “bone structure”, how tricky it is to hang from a rope in a tail and much more…
How long have you been working with Cirque du Soleil and what can you tell us about your role there?
I’m coming up on 21 months with Cirque du Soleil. I’m part of the Tour Management team for TORUK – The First Flight. We take care of getting everybody from city to city every week.
When did TORUK debut?
It started in December 2015. We did the premiere in Montreal, so that was almost three years ago – and since then we’ve been touring around the world. We did North America, Asia and then Australia and New Zealand. Now we’re in our European leg. We just finished our thirteenth country last week in Berlin, and we’ll be going to Italy next week.
Is it challenging to constantly move the show from one location to the next?
It does come with a whole lot of organising because we travel with everything that’s required for the show. When we go by air we take five planes, with four 747s just for the set. We travel with lighting and audio. We have projections that cover the entire stage – that’s bigger than five IMAX screens, so that’s 40 projectors we carry with us. We carry the costumes, the props and the puppets. These are large-scale puppets, so one of them is 12 metres wide, just to give you an idea. All of this goes in four planes, and then the fifth plane has 104 people who put up the show every night. So it’s a large-scale project!
So what is TORUK about?
It actually takes place 2,000 years before the movie Avatar. There are no human beings on Pandora – only the Na’vi, the blue beings that you saw in the movie. We follow the quest of three young teenagers, three young Na’vi, that set to save their world and their people from a natural catastrophe. Then, of course, they meet different clans and face challenges. It really is a tale of perseverance, of friendship and of what you can do when you all unite together.
Can you explain the creative process that went into TORUK?
It’s a show that’s very different than anything you’re used to seeing by Cirque du Soleil, mainly because it’s a collaboration with James Cameron’s Avatar. We worked with James Cameron and his team for five years before we actually created the show to look at what the story would be, what the characters would be and where it would take place. Everything you’ll see on stage has been approved by James Cameron and is really an extension of the Avatar universe. It’s the first time that a show at Cirque du Soleil has been inspired by a movie.
Are there any other firsts in TORUK?
Yes, it’s the first time that we’ve had a storyteller. In TORUK we have narration – we actually have someone who will speak English. Our storyteller, who’s a Na’vi character, will guide you through this quest where we have acrobatics that are kind of integrated and woven into that story. It’s also the first time we have a full team of puppeteers who bring to life all the creatures of Pandora – and the puppets are massive. Plus it’s the first time that we have a lot of apparatus and new skills like indoor kite flying and boomerang, so it’s a really exciting show not only for fans of Cirque du Soleil, but for fans of Avatar as well.
Do you need to see Avatar before going to TORUK?
If you’ve not seen the movie, it’s not a problem as this show’s a prequel. At the same time, if you’re a fan of Avatar it’s a good thing to come to the show because then you get to discover new elements. We even have superfans who come to the show. They come all dressed in Na’vi and painted blue with makeup over their faces. Sometimes they even speak the language, and they understand exactly what our artists are saying on stage.
So the artists had to learn to speak Na’vi?
Yes, and it’s not an easy language, I can tell you that. They also had to learn to move like Na’vi and that was definitely a challenge because not only are the Na’vi much taller than human beings, but they also move differently. Their ears are not in the same place so they don’t use them in the same way. They have all these very acute senses. Our artists who are used to pointed toes and long lines had to learn to do their disciplines with that organic feel, with not always having the beautiful lines of the pointed toes – and with having tails… which is a challenge when you’re on a rope. At first when they were running around, they would step on it. We broke a few tails at the beginning but now the artists are just incredible. When you get to see them up close on stage, they’re magnificent.
What are some highlights from TORUK?
There are lots of highlights, one of which is a new act that we recruited for this show – so you will not see it anywhere else and it’s not something you can learn at circus school because it doesn’t exist. We call it the bone structure. It looks like a big skeleton, but it’s a revolving seesaw and the artists do a contortion and balancing number on top of it. It’s quite impressive.
There’s also something we call the Tawkami flowers. It’s the choreography of very large, massive pink flowers on the floor and in the air. It’s a beautiful poetic moment, a highlight for a lot of people.
Do you have a favourite moment?
Oh I have so many! For my personal highlight, I think it would be the end of the show when you see the results of what’s happening with the quest. I’ll keep a little bit of a secret but it’s when everybody unites together and the music is so powerful. Every time I’ve seen it – and that’s been a few hundred times now – it gives me chills. Every time.
Cirque du Soleil’s TORUK – The First Flight comes to the UK next summer. It will play at the Manchester Arena from 20 – 23 June 2019 and then at London’s O2 Arena from 26 – 30 June 2019.
Tickets for TORUK are available now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.
Photos from the O2 Arena by Krista Lynch. Production photos of TORUK by Errisson Lawrence © 2015 Cirque du Soleil