It seemed like a good idea at the time: Get high, fumble our way to some seats in the Moda Center, and watch people in blue unitards jump and dance and sing and pretend to be giant alien cat people from Avatar! Would we understand any of it? Would it be in Avatar's made-up cat-people language? Would the night end with us wearing matching pairs of blue cat-people ears?
Such were the questions posed by Cirque du Soleil's bewildering Toruk: The First Flight, inspired by James Cameron's Avatar—and which, Wednesday night, kicked off a four-day Portland engagement. But as it turns out, the bigger questions were: Would the show's opening night go off without multiple hitches? Would the performance be marred by technical difficulties and delays long enough that much of the crowd, irritated and tired, would file out of the arena? Would the cast and crew be forced to skip over a large chunk of the production—including, presumably, the action-packed climax of the already confusing story—in order to just finish the goddamn thing and get all the kids in the audience home before midnight?
We'll get to that, but first, some context. One of us (Erik) actually likes Avatar (don't get him started) and one of us (Ned) refuses to give Avatar any more thought than he did when he (like you, like everyone) saw it in 2009. Both of us were high! The Moda Center was SO BLUE!
Man. So blue.
And yeah: It's been seven years since Avatar, the HIGHEST GROSSING MOTION PICTURE IN THE HISTORY OF PLANET EARTH. (Cameron is currently working on the next four installments. Four!) And yeah, that's a loooong time between a movie it seems everyone has forgotten and a two-hour-long, twirls-and-jumps filled prequel starring whimsical circus folk. Do you remember what a toruk is? (It's a space dragon.) Do you remember what a Na'vi is? (Giant cat person from outer space.) Do you remember how Na'vi never stop saying "I see you" to each other? (They never stop.) Have you spent the better part of the last decade wondering about about the history of the beloved Omaticaya Clan? (No. You have not.)
We see you too, dude.
Anyway, forget about the gibberish specifics: Toruk: The First Flight is basically your standard Cirque du Soleil show, except, you know, bluer, and with more tails, and with a lot of time devoted to cat people talking, singing, and screaming in a made-up language. (There are no subtitles, but a friendly cat person narrator occasionally chimes in with protips about space dragons.) There's a dude throwing around Nerf frisbee things! There are people balancing on a teeter-totter! There's spinning in the air and jumping and dancing and drumming! There's whatever the shit is going on here!
Full disclosure: We lost our shit laughing at least four times because what the shit is going on. (Even Erik, who, humiliatingly, understood some of the Na'vi words, and who, humiliatingly, refused to shut the fuck up about how Avatar is "James Cameron's scathing indictment of America's colonialist military-industrial complex and its apocalyptic pillaging of our natural resources." Erik probably got too high.) We were bored at other points, because seriously, what the shit is going on: There was a space turtle, and space ostriches, and space dogs! Space ostriches. And at intermission, we got beer and wondered when the hell this fucking space dragon that all these unitard-wearing clowns wouldn't shut up about was finally going to show up.
WAIT... WAIT... IS THAT....
HOLY SHIT IT'S TORUK! THE LAST SHADOW! ALL HAIL THE KING OF THE SPACE DRAGO—
Then Toruk broke. Twice. This was... a little less magical.
Toruk is a very technical show (there are floating mountains, and floods, and some kind of weird game the Na'vi play with a giant hula hoop?), so sure, everything isn't always going to go off without a hitch. But still: Even though we were high, and even though at least one of us harbors a greater appreciation for space dragons than your average sane person, Toruk is already pushing it at two hours (which includes a 20-minute intermission so you can buy a Na'vi hoodie or a Na'vi umbrella).
Combined with the technical difficulties—which caused lengthy breaks in the production while repair crews resuscitated poor Toruk, and which ultimately led to what felt like several scenes being skipped altogether, with the cast gamely, abruptly performing the final scene before the lights came up—Toruk lasted a long time. Long enough for the weed to wear off, and long enough for us to feel bad for the undeniably talented/strong/flexible performers who had the show stolen from them by a broken puppet, and long enough that the idea of buying cat-people ears on the way out seemed somewhat less hilarious. Tickets to Toruk are expensive, ranging from $50 to $140, so, you know, heads up: Should you go, your mileage will almost certainly vary, depending on how much you love (1) tumbling, (2) the world of James Cameron's Avatar™, (3) the very real possibility that the title character, who, again, is a giant dragon puppet, will decide to take the night off, and (4) space turtles. And also how high you are.