Cirque du Soleil’s East-West revue ‘Dralion’ offers high-flying thrills and fantastic critters
By Lawrence B. Johnson
The place where Olympian gymnastics meet the ballet is known the world over as Cirque du Soleil, an impression that’s only redoubled by the company’s eye-popping production called “Dralion.”
Never minding this rather silly conflation of “dragon” (symbol of the East) and “lion” (symbol of the West), Cirque’s show is exhilarating, beautiful, seductive. It’s also as imaginative and disciplined as it is ambitious and flamboyant. There may not be any elephants – or lions or dragons, for that matter – but the entertainment value is pachydermic.
The Chicago run, which began last week at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont and continues at the United Center west of the Loop, is a national tour stop for “Dralion.”
Watching Cirque’s remarkable troupe of artist-athletes, I found my thoughts tumbling back to impressions of circuses that came to town when I was a kid, and I couldn’t help thinking those performers who seemed so exotic and marvelous probably wouldn’t have made the cut for “Dralion.” These fine figures put one more in mind of classical statuary: the Greek ideal come to life, and capable of anything.
That’s anything this side of flying, though my favorite act in the show – a spectacular exhibition by two men and three women on two grand trampolines – even had me wondering about that. I’m not talking about bounce, bounce, spring, flip, bounce. No, this was BOUNCE, BOUNCE, zoom – up to the top of a high, wide wall, where the men would teeter for a moment before somersaulting back to a trampoline to be propelled right back up the wall for some other amazing turn-around.
The three women meanwhile were doing high acrobatic flips and also springing to perches on the wall, bounding from one trampoline to the other and crisscrossing with the men up the wall.
Over the course of this extended act, the five high-fliers executed every imaginable trampoline trick, all of them at greater velocity and height than you’re likely to have seen before. If this had been on television, there would have been small print at the bottom of the screen: “Crazy professionals. Don’t even think of trying any of this stuff at home.”
Also airborne were performers in flying rings who displayed their acrobatic agility high above the stage. Earthbound, another god-like expression of the human form pitched and rolled effortlessly over, around and through large intersecting hoops. Rings, stacked vertically, were the focal point of another act in which tumblers plunged through hoops of various sizes – and over each other – in a dazzling show of synchrony and concentration.
Purely mesmerizing was an elegant one-hand-standing contortionist, ballet upside down. Hypnnotic, too, was a cluster of women maneuvering large spindles on long strings, pitching the grooved objects into the air and tossing them from one performer’s string to another’s. And the old pyramid routine pushed the wow meter when a line of acrobats stacked three high – the bottom row on hands and knees – skipped rope as one really complex and agile organism.
As for that newly contrived creature the dralion, a pride of those appeared – two acrobats inhabiting each brightly costumed beast – for a perilous romp around the stage on giant balls. Like everything else on the bill, the dralions were a treat for the adult eye as well as the child’s capacity for wonder in all of us.
- Sneak peek of the aerial acrobats and hoop jumpers: See “Dralion” trailer
- Behind the scenes video: Check out one called “The Trampoline Set-up”
- Chicago tickets, dates and times, plus upcoming “Dralion” tour dates: Check at cirquedusoleil.com