The words unusual and Cirque du Soleil often end up in the same sentence.
But in the case of “Toruk — The First Flight,” there are atypical reasons beyond the usual Cirque enigma.
The show, Cirque’s 37th production since inaugurating in 1984, is the first to tell a direct story and also the first to be based on previously conceived work. The inspiration for “Toruk” is James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster “Avatar,” and the constructed Na’vi language in the film — spoken by the Na’vi clan that inhabits the fictional moon Pandora — is utilized in the production.
While Cameron wasn’t directly involved in creating the production, he met with the Cirque team four years ago to discuss shaping a production that would take place thousands of years before the events of “Avatar.”
“Toruk,” which plays Infinite Energy Center in Duluth June 15-19, launched its arena run in November in Louisiana and will continue through October (the company canceled its next set of dates in Raleigh, N.C., because of the controversial HB2 legislation in the state).
One of the driving characters in the show is The Shaman, played by Priscilia Le Foll, a native of Montpellier, France. The Shaman is the spiritual leader among the tribe, as well as its most important female member.
A professional singer since her preteen years, Le Foll performed as the lead singer in “Monaco” by Cirque Éloize before joining “Toruk,” her first excursion with Cirque du Soleil.
To now be part of the famed Montreal company is “amazing … one of my dreams,” Le Foll said recently from a “Toruk” stop in Ohio.
During the show, it’s important, she said, “to respect the universe of the Na’vi,” something the cast must adhere to by performing “Toruk”’s songs in the fictional language. The word “Toruk,” by the way, is also from the Na’vi language and refers to the leonopteryx — flying king lion — that rules the Pandoran sky. The plot, guided by The Storyteller, follows the first flight of the Toruk.
While “Toruk” contains some of Cirque’s gasp-inducing acrobatics and many ornate costumes, even seasoned Cirque-goers should be aware that “Toruk” is different, leaning more on theatrics and visuals.
“It’s not the traditional Cirque show,” Le Foll said. “For a lot of people, it’s a new adventure. It’s really cool to have a vocalist on stage to guide the story. It’s not just an acrobatic thing. It’s weaving a story.”
Instead of a live band tucked away — a common Cirque move — The Shaman and a drummer are integrated on stage as Na’vi members.
“It’s inspirational,” Le Foll said of the music in the show. “They use a lot of natural things, like dry leaves, to create sound. It’s a very organic sound.”
Prepare for liftoff.