TORUK’s Futuristic World Comes to Hartford

Cirque du Soleil performers practice a balancing act on the Thanator skeleton sculpture.

If you perused Trump’s proposed budget released yesterday, then you already know that among other things, all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts would be eliminated and the Environmental Protection Agency would have its funding cut 31%. Nineteen agencies in all would have their funding completely eliminated.

Eating that news for breakfast, it felt like the opening night of Cirque du Soleil’s TORUK — The First Flight, inspired by James Cameron’s Avatar, could not arrive soon enough as a temporary escape.

We haven’t quite figured out the magic of this boat, which moves around the arena

As it turns out, TORUK actually brought the issues of the day into sharp focus. In the story, the characters — the Na’vi living on Pandora — are confronted with environmental disasters, which can only be mitigated or prevented by working together with those from other tribes. This is conveyed through a storyteller, along with acrobats, puppeteers, a drummer, a singer, and an elaborate set and special effects.

View from the quick change costume area

Though Cirque du Soleil’s headquarters are in Montreal, they make a serious point about the value of the arts. The fascination audiences have had with Cirque du Soleil has sparked the creation of circus arts programs in the United States. We know more than one person who has or is involved with trapeze; this does not even take into account the growing population of aerial yoga — using silks to take yoga practice off the mat and into the air.

If we want to entertain the theory that this recent presidential election (and the apparent ongoing campaign by a sitting, newly elected president) was made possible because of a nation hungry for jobs, we have to ask what the consequences of Trump’s proposed budget would be if adopted.

It does not take rocket scientists — though they too will be taking a hit from the budget — to see that the rhetoric of job creation does not align with what we see in the proposed budget.

But what do the arts have to do with jobs?

All one needs to do is peek behind-the-scenes as we did Thursday afternoon.

There are the many performers, of course, but then there are the people who have to keep the costumes clean and in good repair. With such an athletic production, it is no surprise that costume mending is steady work. But, someone has to design those costumes before that. Then, there are the people who drive and unload the 27 trucks from one destination to the next, who build the sets, and make sure all the wires are exactly where they need to be. Sound, lighting, and special effects. Choreography. Composers. Someone to design the puppets. A movement coach. A director. Media wranglers. Ushers. Box office. Building security. Building facility workers. Parking garage attendants. Concessions and merchandise. Paramedics on standby.

Not every artistic production comes anywhere near the scale of what Cirque du Soleil delivers, but each one does more than just make something pretty for us to watch for a few hours.

TORUK will be at the XL Center in Hartford through March 19, 2017.

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