This summer will be particularly epic as the renowned theater production Cirque de Soleil brings to Beijing Toruk: The First Flight, inspired by the groundbreaking sci-fi epic film, Avatar.
Toruk: The First Flight, a prequel set 3,000 years before the events in the mega-blockbuster film, features four main characters who set out on a quest to save the Na’vi race from a natural catastrophe.
We all know that a Cirque du Soleil production is synonymous with grandness but their show masters said they have stepped it up in Toruk: The First Flight to give a unique experience to their audiences. The production itself features a crew of more than 60 artists, acrobats, singers and musical directors, percussionists, puppeteers, choreographers, and sound and light engineers from around the globe, and deploys a huge screen area the size of five Imax screens, over 40 projectors, and motion sensors that correspond to the movement of artists.
Beijingkids caught up with the team’s company manager Michael Veilleux and publicist Janie Mallet and they explained more about their upcoming performance of Toruk: The First Flight in Beijing.
Tell us why it took so long before you brought Toruk: The First Flight to Beijing?
Veilleux: In general, we start in North America, then after that we go internationally, and then we finish in Europe. Sometimes it differs depending on the shows. We have 10 touring shows that go around the world, so there’s a lot of logistics in that. We took the opportunity to go to Sanya first (on February 1 to May 1), and then the plan was to go here and then to Shanghai.
There’s a lot of films that could be adapted into a theatrical production, so I wonder why you guys chose Avatar?
Veilleux: The principal point was we had a creative team who saw the movie and found out that Jim (James Cameron) and his creativity really merged well with ours (Cirque du Soleil). So, we went to see him and pitched the idea. Remember that Jim has collaborated with us on previous 3D films like Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away, and others, so it’s not our first collaboration with him. And this means, for us, our ability to continue to innovate and to do something different from what we’ve done before.
Mallet: The collaboration with James, from the very beginning, took five years, before we first premiered 2.5 years ago. He is so amazing and generous that he gave us access to documents of Avatar. This is very important because it allowed us to invent new creatures and characters. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen Avatar because Toruk is effectively a prequel set 3,000 years before the movie.
Avatar is a well-known movie so do you think it’s a challenge adopting its storyline and turning it into a theater production?
Veilleux: It’s a step by step process. The movie itself talks about the story that we also tell. In that sense, it’s a collaborative process that has various phases of creation.
Mallet: We’ve been creating shows for 30 years so it’s not anything that’s unknown. Facing those challenges as Michael was saying was often a way to go further. For our show, we were the first of Cirque du Soleil to actually use the whole arena space. It’s a large space to fill and with inspiration from Avatar, we knew that projections will play a very important role. So for the first time, for Cirque du Soleil as well, and probably for any type of performance like this, having five Imax screens worth of projection space was in itself a challenge: it’s heavy on the floor, it has 40 projectors and some of them weigh 600 pounds. So it’s a lot of technical elements that we have to bring up but the results are stunning visually so it was very worth it.
We know that Cirque du Soleil production have stunning acrobatic displays and performances. I’ve read a lot of reviews that said Toruk is not a usual Cirque du Soleil production. Why is that so?
Veilleux: Exactly. This is, again, one of our abilities to create and innovate. And in this case, Toruk provides a storyline, so that’s why we have a storyteller. If you recall in the movie, when they’re in the Home Tree, the Chief talks about the story about the first Toruk Makto and the scene lasted about 30 seconds. In Toruk, we’re telling that story and we’ve tied that in the movie. Our goal here is to tell a story, not just to present acrobatics. So that’s why the acrobatics in Toruk is a supporting element linked with all the projection and puppetry that makes the show so unique. We have the ability to bring a prequel to life. And bringing Avatar to life was actually one of the privileges because you’ll see the puppets are big and you see the kites fly above the audience members; they’re just amazing elements that you don’t see in other shows.
Mallet: All the movements of the artists are linked to the projection. We have 40 projectors, large-scale puppets, the biggest of which is a 115kg revolving skeleton called Toruk. It was created specifically for the show. It’s taking traditional circus and acrobatics to another level. There’s a lot of firsts for us. There’s a lot of new surprises and all the spectacle provides an experience that is very family-friendly.
What do you expect from your Chinese audience?
Veilleux: Well, I expect them to be coming from a family perspective. In that sense, our Chinese audience is very similar to other cultures or countries that we’ve been to around the world, for example, Mexico and the Philippines. In those shows, we’ve had that chance to see kids laughing at certain moments and get really excited. We just hope that our Chinese audience will be able to feel our creative juices.
Mallet: Research shows that Avatar has been a popular movie in China! We have that connection already and we feel that Toruk is a great show to bring to the Chinese audience.
What will be the preparations for your grand premiere on August 1?
Veilleux: Normally, we will work with our building team to try to get the specs of the building. We will plan for the logistics of the show. The rehearsal period lasts for two to five days, depending on how much time we’re off before. We plan to add workshops to our local staff in the city at the beginning of our run to get everybody back into shape and hopefully if we make any changes.
Anything you want to say to your Beijing audience before your grand premiere?
Veilleux: We cannot wait to show Toruk to everyone! We’re so excited to be here!
Toruk: The First Flight, Aug 1-12
All ages. RMB 280-780. 3pm performance (Sat, Sun) and 7.30pm performance (Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat). Cadillac Arena, 69 Fuxing Road, Haidian District. For more information and to book tickets, visit this page.
Photos: Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil