Cirque du Soleil's show Toruk inspired by James Cameron's Avatar

Cirque du Soleil is counting on the popularity of Avatar, James Cameron's blockbuster movie, to attract audiences in China with its new show, Toruk, which is set to launch in Montreal on Dec. 21.

Cirque counts on popularity of blockbuster movie to help it break into China with 2017 tour

Cirque du Soleil's new show Toruk show features characters from James Cameron's Avatar. (Cirque du Soleil)

The Cirque du Soleil's new show, Toruk – set to launch in Montreal just weeks from now – is inspired by the highest-grossing movie of all time worldwide, James Cameron's Avatar.

The show is set in Pandora, thousands of years before the events of the movie. 

Threatened by ecological disaster, three young Na'vi go on a quest to find Toruk, a giant predatory bird hidden in the forest of Pandora to help them save their planet.

Fans of the movie will see the same blue Na'vi inhabitants of Pandora, hear them speak and recognize many of the creatures that Cameron created for Avatar

James Cameron a Cirque fan

Director James Cameron announced a new show by Cirque du Soleil based on his movie at a news conference last year in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)
Toruk was written and directed by Montreal duo Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon. The two are known around the world for their immersive multimedia shows. They also wrote and directed Delerium for Cirque in 2006. 

But even so, the pair said putting together a circus spectacle inspired by Avatar was a bit intimidating.

They knew James Cameron was a long-time fan of Cirque du Soleil: He'd shown his Na'vi characters to Cirque CEO Daniel Lamarre before the release of Avatar, telling Lamarre that they were inspired by Cirque figures. 

So Lemieux and Pilon took Cameron their script.

"We were kind of shy, but we presented it to James Cameron himself, and he smiled and said, 'Everything in this scenario goes with my universe,'" Lemieux recalled.

But Lemieux said Cameron told them: 'I'm a movie director. You're a show director. I'm not going to try to direct your show. I'm going to help you.' And he became our script doctor."

"It's kind of a luxury to have James Cameron as a script doctor." 

High stakes

The stakes are high for the Cirque du Soleil. Toruk is their first show with a narrator. 

"It's story driven with an actor that will talk to us and lead us through the quest of our three heroes. And also we've miked some of the artists who will speak in Na'vi," said co-creator Victor Pilon. 

The narrator will speak English or French, depending on the location of the performance. 

It's also the first show to be produced since the Montreal circus company was sold to an international consortium, which includes a major Chinese partner, Fosun Group.

After several years of cost-cutting and closing shows, Cirque is counting on the box office success of Avatar in China to help break into the lucrative Chinese market. 

Toruk begins an arena tour of North America with previews in the U.S. in mid-November.

The world premiere is December 21 at the Bell Centre in Montreal.  It will tour North American arenas in 2016 and head to China in 2017.   

Cirque is hoping to keep Toruk touring for the next decade.


Jeanette Kelly works as the arts reporter at CBC Montreal. She's also the host of Cinq à Six, Quebec's Saturday afternoon culture show on CBC Radio One.