I got to spend 2016’s Saint Patrick’s Day touring the backstage areas of Toruk – The First Flight, a new Cirque du Soleil arena show currently in Tampa.
The show takes between 12 and 14 hours to unload from the trucks and assemble inside the arenas. We got an exclusive sneak peak at many of the puppets, costumes and even some rehearsals.
Pictured above is an Austrapede, a cross between an ostrich, a pink flamingo and a dinosaur. A single puppeteer housed inside controls the neck and head with one hand and uses their other hand to work the wings, which start flapping whenever the Austrapede is frightened.
Perched on seven-inch platform shoes that give the animal its distinct hop, the puppeteer can see through the animal’s gills.
Since weight is an important factor when building large-scale puppets, most structures are made of aluminum or, whenever possible, carbon fiber, a material as flexible as it is lightweight.
For fans of Avatar, if these creatures don’t look familiar, that’s intentional. Toruk serves as a prequel to the James Cameron blockbuster which takes place 3,000 years in the future and features all new animals the public has never seen before. Could we end up seeing these in the new Avatar sequels being developed or even the new area opening in Animal Kingdom next year? It’s a very real possibility.
In order to populate Pandora, all of these unique puppets and folklore was designed by James Cameron’s team at Lightstorm Entertainment.
And this is Toruk, an impressive puppet that has an actor ride the back of it throughout the arena. If the rehearsal above is any indication, tonight’s show will be very impressive indeed.
Strangely enough, this massive beast is stored in various shipping containers between performances. For the record, this creature is neither bird, nor dragon, or any classification of animal we are aware of on Earth. However, the shipping containers divide the pieces thusly….
That’s right! White meat and dark meat. You’re welcome.
Costumes worn by the performers to represent the Na’vi (you know, the blue human-like creatures) are designed to look like all of the materials that do not come from this Earth.
In reality, Na’vi are supposed to be 10-feet-tall, but as luck would have it, Cirque couldn’t find anyone to cast of this size (Ha!). So in reality, they auditioned fairly tall acrobats who perform in Toruk. In relation to the environment and puppets, they are supposed to look taller than humans. Pictured above is one of the Na’vi costumes.
In total, the production has 18 kites seen throughout the performance. At one point, a giant traction kite actually flies over the heads of the audience and they can feel the whoosh of air as it soars by. A traction kite is typically large enough to pull a vehicle on land, snow, ice or water. Since there is no wind indoors, it is the flyer who must generate the energy required to fly the kite. Interestingly, a traction kite that is flown indoors has the ability to glide forward just like a paper airplane.
If you’re wondering why this show isn’t in Orlando, I have an answer! According to my tour guide today, Cirque du Soleil has a deal with La Nouba at Walt Disney World where no other Cirque show will compete with it over a certain radius. This means, if La Nouba is dark, a touring arena show can visit the Amway Arena if it’s available.
If you’re looking for more information on Toruk and to find out if it is performing in a city near you, click this link! Thanks again to the folks at Cirque du Soleil for this backstage look at Toruk and we can’t wait to see it!
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