When Cirque du Soleil Toruk: The First Flight rolls into Houston, it will be a special homecoming for one member of the renowned entertainment troupe’s cast. Dustin Walston, Longview native and Stephen F. Austin State University alum, is making his Cirque du Soleil debut.
“This is definitely the pinnacle of anything I’ve done,” says the 33-year-old, who took up gymnastics at 15, helped SFSA to seven national cheerleading championships and ultimately gave up a job in financial services to audition for Cirque du Soleil. “It was an intense experience, auditioning. I sent in a demo; I think there were maybe 120 of us called. Over two days, it was whittled down to 11.”
While it would take another three years after that initial call for Walston to be cast in a Cirque show, he’s understandably excited to be taking part in Toruk. He and fellow Texan Elizabeth Brown Gagon and the rest of the team began working on production back in July. It had a soft opening in Montreal last December.
The show is based on the James Cameron blockbuster Avatar and encompasses Cirque du Soleil’s signature puppetry, acrobatics and cutting-edge visual effects. Add to that a soaring score and Avatar’s original mythical story line, and Walston says it’s got the makings for an incredible performing arts event.
“It’s a combination of the abstract and the concrete,” he explains. “And audiences who’ve seen the movie should expect to fall in love with some new characters, as well as see their favorites. Anyone who hasn’t seen Avatar is just in for a thrill.”
Toruk takes place a thousand years before the events in Avatar, before any humans ever set foot on Pandora, a fictional moon in the Alpha Centauri system. The Na’vi, who inhabit the fabled place, believe in harmony and the interconnectedness of all living things. But when a natural catastrophe threatens to destroy the sacred Tree of Souls, two boys on the brink of adulthood take matters into their own hands and embark on a quest to save the Na’vi from a terrible fate.
“Houston should get ready for a multimedia spectacular,” Walston says enthusiastically. “It’s got such a visual impact!”
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Forty video projectors are used to convey the story. Performers and aerialists wear tracking devices that are linked to spotlights in their costumes, and bold textures and prints in costuming bring the Na’vi to life. Walston calls the experience of Toruk: The First Flight an immersive one.
“It’s wonderful experience for me,” he says, “to be able to do this. And it will be a wonderful experience for the audience.”
And while Walston’s enjoyed being part of an international cast and is looking forward to a tour across the U.S., on this stop, he’s looking forward to something else:
“I can’t wait to see all my friends,” he said. “Texans love to see Texans succeed, and knowing friends and family are coming out to see and support this work I do, that makes a show so much better.”
Performances are scheduled for February 11-14 at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Toyota Center 1510 Polk. For information, call 713-758-7200 or visit houstontoyotacenter.com/events $55-$115