Cirque du Soleil has done better by Twin Cities audiences — a lot better.

The Montreal-based troupe’s latest show, “Toruk: The First Flight,” opened Wednesday in a rush of striking design at Target Center. The two-hour production is inspired by James Cameron’s environment-themed “Avatar,” Hollywood’s all-time biggest blockbuster about blue people who live in harmony with nature on their planet, Pandora.

The live show uses projections and evocative puppetry to create the primordial world of Pandora, with impressive waterfalls, a huge sacred tree and mysterious beasts.

Named for an aerial dinosaur-like predator, “Toruk” has strikingly evocative design — they must have spent a million bucks on projections — plus techno-tribal drumming and fluid acrobatics performed by an impressive company drawn from at least 15 countries. (Twin Citian Rob Laqui is one of the puppeteers.)

In other words, there’s a lot of eye candy, but ultimately the production fails to soar. It certainly is not as arresting as previous Cirque shows to land in Minnesota, including the magical “Amaluna” and the clever “Ovo.”

The inertia around “Toruk” is due in part to the way the story is told. The narrative, about a quest by two young initiates to save a sacred tree, is a yawner that’s both unsurprising and uninspiring. It feels like a 30-minute work that’s been padded with filler to make it into a full evening with an intermission — giving the performers a breather, and the audience an opportunity to buy merchandise.

There is a distinction between the shows that Cirque does in its own chapiteaus, or big tops, and those it performs in arenas.

The ones it designs for its own tents often showcase the athleticism and skill of its performers with more immediacy. In the arenas, the company makes do with the architecture it has to work with.

While the views of “Toruk” at Target Center are good, and the design team did commendable work transforming the venue, the action seems a touch remote, even from great seats.

Some of the design elements in “Toruk,” including viperwolves and an animal pageant, look like they were plucked directly from “The Lion King,” Julie Taymor’s ingenious juggernaut. The similarities invite an unfavorable comparison. “Toruk” is not that arresting.

 

rpreston@startribune.com

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Twitter: @rohanpreston