Bioluminescence in Bologna: Cirque Du Soleil’s Toruk, based on James Cameron’s Avatar

Finally I am in the same city at the same time as Toruk, Cirque Du Soleil’s take on James Cameron’s Avatar. I wanted to see it since I first stumbled upon a call for puppeteers in the newsletter of the Jim Henson Association years ago. Now I am in Bologna, a lively city on a weekend of university graduations – and lots of rain (which naturally takes me back to the rainy weekend in Florence in March). I have however braved a guided tour through the old town, learnt about the city’s three T’s (no comment) and much more.

I do not have a ticket for the late afternoon performance of Toruk – whenever I tried booking it online in advance the web sites would switch to Italian and I got stuck. Failing to find a train or tram to the event location I opt for a taxi (ca. 30 Euro from the city centre); the driver apologizes as it took so long and recommends a bus home. I will indeed make use of this later.

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Pandora comes to life

The UnipolArena is in a big industrial estate outside Bologna (name area), between furniture houses and mega supermarkets. Fitting up to 13,000 visitors the venue is dedicated to the unexpected local’s favourite sport, basketball. There is no big queue at the box office half an hour before show starts and with a glance on my ticket I realise I have not been charged the ticket fee of 7,50 Euro – on the day I learned the term “theatrehack”.

I struggle to find my seat as the whole foyer area is desolate of signs or direction, it smells of sweet popcorn but staff help navigating. The seats are tiny, the rows tight and it is incredibly busy.

Toruk thanks its international sponsors while fireflies are swirling on the decked arena floor and this evening will be indeed a celebration of bioluminescence. The blue tribe members are preparing for an initiation, the first flight. They are superhumanly agile, with the elegance of wild cats and only after a while I suspect that trampolines have been embedded on the ground. In old Cirque Du Soleil fashion we have two narrators and it does not matter that this part is in Italian – they tell of the trees, of the earth, sun and moon and even I get the jist with my limited vocabulary. We experience an earthquake, eruption, and follow via star constellations a river all the way back to the sea. The most wondrous creatures appear in the arena but they are never aliens, always resembling something we might have seen if only in a National Geographic magazine – a constant tone of familiarity and maybe this is what makes me wonder now. This is a celebration of nature with its interpretations of alternative evolution in a jungle, a firework for the flora kingdom. When a dragon flies in made of artificially arranged kites I want to hold it and I want to ride on the giant turtle. All of this is so beautiful, so different and so familiar at the same time.

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Toruk is the Last Shadow, a dragon brought on stage

Toruk is very different from the Cirque show Zumanity I saw in April in Las Vegas, family-friendlier in any case. But this is still high-class entertainment and I make the conscious decision that even the screens of everyone’s phone in front of me do not spoil it – maybe it is Bologna’s own take of bioluminescence, a modern take in any case.

I have only watched the actual film Avatar once; I remember it was the first Blu Ray I watched, on a brand-new PlayStation 3. The crisp picture, the visual effects and the alternative evolution of nature made it a feast for the eyes and it was an exorbitant introduction to afro-futurism – but the sometimes naïve story of good versus evil bored me, especially when soldiers in tanks got involved. Luckily there is none of it here, this is a story dedicated solely to the blue, tailed tribe and I prefer Toruk far above the film. I might give it another chance though, after all a sequel is announced for next year. And I’ll look out for the Toruk tour stops in Manchester and London next year. Can Cirque Du Soleil’s steampunk take Kurios please come to Europe as well soon?

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Cirque Du Soleil’s Toruk exceeds James Cameron’s Avatar in my humble opinion

I paid 50 Euro for my ticket on the day at the venue. Toruk is continuing its tour through Europe and will come to Manchester and London in June 2019.

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