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Concert Reviews:
Cirque du Soleil heads in a different direction with "Toruk"

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Saturday, January 23, 2016

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AUBURN HILLS -- There's a reason people go to see theater, and a reason they go to see Cirque du Soleil.

They're not entirely the same -- which is the challenge that faces and ultimately undermines Cirque's new "Toruk -- The First Flight," showing this weekend at The Palace.

"Toruk" is Cirque's most extensive foray into narrative storytelling yet, a prequel to James Cameron's sci-fi phenomenon "Avatar" that recreates the world of Pandora in more breathtaking dimensions than anything we saw on screen. But in telling a genuine front-to-back story -- about a pair of Na'vi youths coming of age in a quest journey around the planet to save the all-important Tree of Souls from instruction and their people from extinction -- Cirque puts its true self on the back-burning.

Throughout the 110-minute (plus intermission) show, the gravity-defying acrobatics and physically improbable physical stunts -- the things that make Cirque, well, Cirque -- are decidedly second fiddle. Oh, they're there, including a sequence where members of the Anauri clan construct a skeletal Thanator monster with nimble but artful precision and an dazzling acrobatic display by the Tipani clan. But they're too few and too far in between, with gaps of inaction that the "Toruk" story isn't quite strong enough to sustain.

What "Toruk" does offer, however, is unparalleled, immersive visuals. Combining vivid projections, fluid choreography and inventive staging, "Toruk" is a treat for the senses. A volcano rumbles and erupts. A waterfall pours from the backdrop. Clever puppeteering makes Viperwolves, Direhorses and other creatures -- particularly the winged Toruk itself -- are as real as any of the actors and acrobats. And the SurroundSound envelopes the audience in an aural cocoon that completes the spectacle.

Those sights alone make "Toruk" worthwhile. But it's hard not to leave feeling a bit disappointed, if not shortchanged, by the shift in emphasis away from Cirque's much-loved trademarks.

"Toruk -- The First Flight"

4 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23; 1:30 and 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24.

The Palace of Auburn Hills, Lapeer Road at I-75.

Tickets are $40-$135 with discounts for seniors, military, students and children under 12.

Call 248-377-0100 or visit palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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