A world of wonder


Elizabeth Brown Gagnon is a Texas native who began gymnastic and dance at age 7, performed in local theater through childhood, then became a college cheerleader.

All of that is serving Gagnon well as she performs in Toruk – The First Flight, a North American touring production of Cirque du Soleil.

“It comes into use a lot,” she said.

Toruk will make its Philadelphia premiere Wednesday through Sunday, March 8-12, at the Wells Fargo Center.

The show is inspired by James Cameron’s record-breaking 2009 fantasy/science fiction movie Avatar.

“Our show is a prequel to the film,” Gagnon said in a phone interview from Cleveland, where Toruk played before Philadelphia.

There are 40 artists in the cast — consisting of one actor, one singer, one percussionist, one kite specialist, one boomerang specialist, one contortionist, six puppeteers and 28 acrobats.

The stage is 85 by 162 feet. Twenty-five semi-trucks are needed to transport all of the on-stage and behind-the-scenes equipment. Forty video projectors are in use.

“It’s a really large show. It takes up the whole hockey rink,” said Gagnon, who will head to Hartford, Connecticut and Dayton, Ohio for shows after the Philadelphia run.

The show mixes visuals, puppetry and stagecraft with a cinematic score. It takes place on the moon of Pandora, thousands of years before the events depicted in Avatar and before any humans set foot on Pandora.

The show follows the story of three young Na’vi adults and the first flight of the great Toruk creature that rules the Pandoran sky with its 40-foot wingspan. It is narrated by a Na’vi storyteller.

Large-scale effects include an earthquake, a starry sky, ocean waves and a volcano eruption.

To bring audience involvement to a new level, Cirque du Soleil has launched an app. Gagnon encourages all guests to download the app.

“It helps the whole audience get immersed in the show,” she said.

Gagnon plays one of the Na’vi, a race of extraterrestrial humanoids who inhabit Pandora. They are about 10 feet tall, with long tails, pointed ears, triangular faces, flat noses, golden eyes and eight fingers and eight toes.

Gagnon and the other Na’vi speak in a language invented by USC linguistics professor Paul Frommer.

“It’s really exciting to play,” she said.

Gagnon described the show as being for everyone, from kids to senior citizens.

“It’s definitely an immersive experience,” she said.

Gagnon will be coming to Philadelphia for the first time. She’s looking to do some touring, and also plans to check out some local coffee shops and yoga studios.

“I’m really excited to see the city,” she said. “It’s exciting to explore each city.”

In all, there will be eight shows: Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m.

Tickets start at $30 for adults and $25 for children. There is a family four-pack and discounts for students, senior citizens, military personnel and groups of 12 or more. ••

For tickets or more information, go to cirquedusoleil.com/toruk 

A real-life fantasy: Toruk – The First Flight, a North American touring production of Cirque du Soleil, will make its Philadelphia premiere March 8-12, at the Wells Fargo Center. The show is inspired by James Cameron’s movie Avatar. PHOTO: JESSE FAATZ