STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
How would you like a sneak peek at a new Cirque du Soleil show?
Allentown was chosen as one of three preview cities before a national tour of Cirque du Soleil’s “TORUK — The First Flight” hits the road in late December. It’s the first time that a Cirque du Soleil production has played in the Allentown/Lehigh Valley market.
“Personally, it’s the best thing that an artistic director can take on. For the very first time, they’ve allowed a director to be part of the creative process — and it works, it really works,” said Fabrice Lemire of the new show. That’s high praise, considering the Frenchman has been with Cirque du Soleil since 2008, and worked closely with three other Cirque productions.
What’s the theme of this show?
The production is inspired by James Cameron’s blockbuster movie “Avatar.” The story takes place on the moon of Pandora, thousands of years before the events you saw on the big screen. There are new Na’vi characters, new clans, new animals and beasts (and some animals you’ll recognize from the movie), and it follows the story of three young Na’vi adults and the first flight of the great Toruk creature that rules the Pandoran sky.
It was really important to the Cirque creative team to keep respectfully consistent with James Cameron’s fantasy world of “Avatar.” “How did the Na’vi run, walk, think, the sense of smell, the sense of hearing?,” Lemire said. “We cannot put the Na’vi on a Cirque hoop!”
So this Cirque show is really different from their other ones?
Yes, there’s a Storyteller character this time. Unlike other Cirque productions, there will be dialogue. The characters will speak in the fictitious Na’vi language, but according to Lemire, the Storyteller’s narration will be in English, making it easy to follow.
“It’s great seeing all the performers thinking outside the box. We are challenging the acrobats to deliver. We ask them to leap into someone else’s body,” Lemire added.
What are some other circus elements we will see?
“We have a lot of tumbling,” said Lemire. He also mentioned a performance piece with kites that sounds like it will be memorable.
I bet the special effects are good.
There will be multimedia projections, making you feel like you’re on Pandora. The total projection surface is approximately 20,000 square feet, more than five times the size of a standard IMAX screen. The video projections sometimes overflow beyond the set and into the audience. The set changes are not mechanical, but optical, so they can be done lightning fast.
Some things to look for: earthquakes; a volcano eruption; waves that start in the audience before washing up on shore on stage; a starry sky projected all over the arena, turning it into an upside-down planetarium.
Since these are real-life performers and actors, and not CGI aliens, there’s blue makeup galore, and costumes in line with the cinematic dress codes established by James Cameron’s team. There are 115 costumes in the show, an average of 3.3 costumes per artist. The animals and beasts will be operated by puppeteers — 16 in all. The puppeteers will be equipped with microphones and make their own animal sounds live.
Where can I see it?
The PPL Center, 701 Hamilton St., Allentown. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4, 4 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5, and 1:30 and 5 p.m. Dec. 6.
What’s this going to look like in an arena like the PPL Center?
The stage is 85 by 162 feet, and is composed of five main elements that comprise the set, ranging from tropical rainforest and equatorial desert to boreal forest, mountains, ocean shorelines, wetlands, and archipelago (representing the Na’vi’s connection to nature).
How much are the tickets?
Prices range from $32-$153.50. Visit www.pplcenter.com or call (610) 347-TIXX. If you’re planning on taking a group, the group sales phone number is (484) 273-4463.
What’s the parking there like?
The arena is in center city Allentown. Most street parking meters accept payment by credit card or coins. Garage parking requires payment by cash or credit card. You can buy advance parking in the Linden Street garage online. Parking for concerts is $10. For more information, and to view an interactive parking map, visit www.allentowneventparking.com.
To get there from the Northeast Extension, take the Lehigh Valley exit (56) to Route 22 east. Get off at the Route 145/Macarthur Road/Seventh Street exit. Turn right onto 145/Macarthur Road, which will become Seventh Street in Allentown. Follow the signs for event parking.
How many productions does this make for Cirque du Soleil now?
“TORUK — The First Flight” is the 37th production since 1984. The company has drawn more than 155 million spectators in more than 300 cities on six continents. Check out www.cirquedusoleil.com and www.facebook.com/torukthefirstflight.