Cirque du Soleil's new show Toruk: The First Flight is inspired by James Cameron's Avatar and it succeeds and fails in the same ways as the film did.

First off, it has to be said that the Toruk is visually stunning.

The sets change completely as plants sprout up through stage, vines hang from the ceiling and the tree in the back transforms into cliffs and opens out into caves. The lighting and digital projections create whole new worlds, from a realm of dancing flowers to a flowing river in a way I've never seen before.

There are particularly impressive parts in which waves crash up against cliffs and later when a flood of water rushes up against lava, where the combinations of the projections, sound, smoke machines and acting make for awe-inspiring scenes.


The costuming is beautiful - particularly said dancing flowers - and the performances are, as always, brilliant. The actors channelled animalistic qualities as they flew across the stage throwing in all kinds of capoeira and parkour-style tricks.

The aerial performers stole the show, entangling themselves in ropes and silks, tumbling and somersaulting in the air, and a scene with impressive feats of contortion and balance atop a spinning skeleton was particularly memorable.

Contortion is hard enough without being on top of a spinning, unbalanced skeleton, surely. Photo / Supplied
Contortion is hard enough without being on top of a spinning, unbalanced skeleton, surely. Photo / Supplied

But here's the thing: It's Cirque du Soleil. Of course it's stunning.

The problem is there is a lot of flash without a whole lot of substance. I feel like what makes Cirque so great is the stories behind the tricks; I remember going to see Quidam and being awed by the fantasy and how it all came together and this was nothing like that.

The "story" seems oddly juvenile, and plays out more like a device to just get you from set to set so you can see the next bit of design prowess.

Often, sequences dragged on for far too long to the point where people around me were shifting restlessly and yawning.

While everything was ridiculously impressive to look at, the pacing felt off and the story simply wasn't intriguing enough to justify it.

If you love Cirque, you will still love Toruk; all the traditional Cirque elements are here in full force and like I said, visually, it is spectacular. But much like Cameron's original movie, there's a whole heap of flash that would've been set off by a more thoughtful story.