Cirque du Soleil's Toruk — First Flight takes flight at Amalie

A stunning show, compelling story, and beautiful set. Go see it.

Nothing about Toruk — First Flight disappoints, except it's the sort of show you should watch three or four times to catch everything, because so much happens on — can you call the Cirque space a stage? — on stage, you know you're missing something phenomenal while you're watching something else amazing.

I'll say this: I did not know what to expect, because I didn't care for Varekai.

I needn't have worried. The addition of a narrator, the lighting and digital effects, and the overall atmosphere — think Julie Taymor meets Avatar meets the Tumble Monkeys — make Toruk — First Flight a wholly different spectacle. 

Cirque uses the quest trope as a throughline for Toruk — First Flight, bringing in high-energy acrobatics, larger-than-life puppetry, stunning, versatile sets and digitally-enhanced backdrops and effects, and some of the most detailed lighting schemes I've ever seen. The language spoken by all but the narrator — Cirquish? — doesn't matter; as with well-done opera and Shakespeare, the entire production moves the action forward and the words themselves fall second to the way the actors and designers allow them to be delivered.

The real gem in this production comes in the design; it's a trick to create such an intricate world and compelling story without characters who speak words we can understand, and Cirque has done it without over-designing the show. Every element is necessary; unlike Varekai, which had superfluous effects and action, Toruk — First Flight uses economy of action to enhance the other components of the production.

That is not to say the show doesn't have something happening every millisecond; I mean only that every action drives the narrative in a clear way. Each step of the quest shows a different part of the imagined world, with worlds transforming seamlessly from one that feels, say, like the sets from Finding Nemo to one that feels like a desert. The transitions happen easily and are accomplished wholly with digital and lighting effects.

The only complaint? The companion app, which doesn't add much to the performance (if anything) other than blinking lights, and serves to drain your phone's battery. It's also a distraction, as you must check your phone to see when an alert to use the app has popped onscreen. It's nifty idea but wholly unnecessary; Toruk will draw you in to its world so fully, the last thing you'll want to do is spend time checking your phone. 

The show runs tonight through Mar. 20 at Amalie Arena. Get your tickets here.

About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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