Presented by Cirque du Soleil
Director: Guy Caron
Creative Director: Gilles Ste-Croix
Executive Director: Andrea Lodico Welshons
PNC Arena, Raleigh, NC (part of national tour)
The creative teams at Cirque du Soleil are known for building shows that embody unique artistic visions using a perfect balance of physical grandeur and good-natured comedy – and the casts of Cirque productions are known for being nothing short of extraordinary. The cast of Cirque du Soleil’s “Dralion” certainly lived up to its reputation at Raleigh’s PNC Arena.
This particular Cirque show illustrated the quest for harmony between humans and nature, as described in Eastern philosophy. In the show, different colors and acts represented the four natural elements – air, water, fire and earth – and the “Dralion”, a lion-dragon hybrid, represented the blending of cultures.
Each natural element had a representative soloist: Oceane, the Water goddess, draped herself in green and performed traditional Indian dances; Azala, goddess of the Air, wore blue and ruled the aerial silks; Gaya, goddess of the Earth, dressed in ochre and expressed herself through African dance; and Yao, the Fire god, sported red and gold and wielded a spear. Together, these spirits created a cohesive ecosystem onstage – but each individual element had its time in the spotlight, too. And that’s good news, because, as evidenced by a fierce battle between Gaya and Yao, sometimes, peaceful coexistence simply was not an option.
Gaya’s posse excelled in hoop-diving, an act borne of Chinese acrobatic tradition that involves, just as its name implies, diving through hoops. Clad in ochre bodysuits with stripes and spots, the acrobats resembled lemurs as they dove, rolled and flipped through hoops with grace. Memorable hoop-diving moments included rapid leaps through moving hoops and partner somersaults that flipped each acrobat through a hoop on his ride to the top. This act also evoked imagery of spear-throwing, a picture that was enhanced by African musical accompaniment and by Gaya’s African dance vocabulary.
Though Yao’s personal weapon of choice was the spear, his acrobatic corps preferred the bamboo poles. These poles, adorned with red decorative fabric, devoured vertical space like the flames of a fire. Acrobats kept the poles in flight by balancing the bases on their biceps, chins and palms; the men also launched the poles into the air and dove or flipped underneath them, always returning to upright positions in time to make their catches.
A bit less flashy than Yao and Gaya was the aerial pas de deux by Azala and a male partner. Though Azala had made an appearance early in the show as the juggler’s assistant – she provided additional balls to the juggler from above – her true artistry shone through on the aerial silks. This particular act was more intimate than the rest of the show; Azala chose moments to get close to her partner both in the air and on the floor, but their relationship never achieved a sense of permanence. But that didn’t make the act any less beautiful; standout moments in this act were a moment of near-kissing while in flight, and the image of Azala, suspended upside down in a perfect center split, carrying her partner’s entire weight with one arm.
Oceane’s featured act was a personal favorite; she performed traditional Indian dance vocabulary while flanked by a crew of trampoline artists. Two male and two female trampolinists performed gravity-defying feats, leaping across a gap between two trampolines and launching themselves up a 26-foot tall aluminum wall. The male trampolinists seemed to travel the furthest vertically; one man even jumped onto the wall’s top and landed balanced in a handstand.
Another incredible balancing act belonged to the Dralions. The show’s namesake, these mythical creatures were portrayed by two performers each – one for the front legs and one for the hind legs. Dralions balanced atop large wooden balls like elephants at the circus, sometimes two occupying a single ball simultaneously, and they performed a spirited dance around regularly dressed performers. At times the Dralions chose to “rest,” but even during these moments, the characters’ simple head bobs were enough to inspire smiles in the audience.
Other acts in “Dralion” included aerial hoop, juggling, skipping ropes and Diabolo (Chinese yo-yo), and of course, the over-the-top clowning that is so characteristic of Cirque du Soleil productions. I won’t give away any secrets about the clowns in this particular show, but I will say that I haven’t ever laughed so much during a performance. I am talking, laugh-‘til-you-cry hilarity. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.