San Diego/Tour Preview: DRALION (Cirque du Soleil)

Post image for San Diego/Tour Preview: DRALION (Cirque du Soleil)

by Milo Shapiro on November 10, 2012

in Theater-Regional,Tours


Childhood memories of circus fun include ringleaders putting heads in a lion’s mouth, dancing bears, and elephants resting a paw upon a lovely lady’s head.   That is, such memories exist if you are a person of a certain age.  If you haven’t been to a circus type event since the Carter administration, though, you might be missing out on the big change:  Not many circuses want to deal with the animals anymore.  Between the cost, the uncertainty, and the cries of cruelty from some, the support for animal-based circus shows has dwindled.  The end of an era?  Not quite…and in many ways for the better.

Redeveloping the circus form in 1980, Cirque du Soleil founders Guy Laliberté, Daniel Gauthier, and Gilles Ste-Croix (then called Les Échassiers) began shifting the traditional focus from animals with humans to purely human-based performance.  Acrobatics, clowns, and other showy spectacles wowed the crowds and a three-decade phenomenon was established.  After struggling financially initially, they received assistance from the Canadian government in 1984.  In short time, they achieved great success with their triumphant Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil from which the new name was derived.  With that victory, they could now develop new programs.  To date, thirty have been produced.

Dralion (pronounced DRA-lee-on), which runs November 15-18 at the Valley View Casino Center, is not a new show; it was first staged in 1999 and has been reworked for the tour.  Having seen two Cirque shows, including Totem, the notion of returning again to their world is electrifying.  The precision, excitement, and exhibition of Cirque’s acrobats are the substance of wonder.   Reportedly, the hoop diving in this particular show is a highlight, and Cirque’s music, featuring a live orchestra that melds musical styles from around the world, is mesmerizing.  François Barbeau’s costumes are glorious sights highlighted by Luc Lafortune’s lighting effects.

As with Totem, Dralion has a theme that inspired the creation of the acts, but the average viewer will have little sense of what that is.  Dan Zeff, my colleague at Stage and Cinema reviewed the show in Chicago, saying, “The show is presented with no dialogue and no storyline though, as usual, Cirque proclaims that there is a theme. And, as usual, that theme will be virtually undetectable by the average viewer. The press release claims the show derives much of its inspiration from Eastern philosophy with its perpetual quest for harmony between humanity and nature. The name Dralion is taken from two symbols, the dragon, representing the East, and the lion, representing the West. Well, maybe, but audiences can be excused from recognizing all that profundity. For many viewers, there is pleasure enough in watching the variety acts plus massed performers cavorting in wild costumes.”

No one leaves a Cirque show disappointed that the theme wasn’t made clear enough; you only have to look at the big smiles on everyone’s faces to know that.  Although Cirque shows look like they are trying to be deep and poignant, that’s just not what we go for.  Cirque is grand, flashy, delightful, inspiring, and magnificent—and all without the smell of elephant dung.  For a new generation of circus lovers, that’s really more than enough.

photos by Daniel Desmarais

Cirque du Soleil at Valley View Casino Center (formerly Sports Arena)
runs in San Diego November 15-18, 2012 for seven performances
continues on tour
for show and ticket information, visit Dralion

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