No tents this time
Cirque du Soleil presents
Review by Lawrence Bommer
Only playing Chicago through Sunday, this touring production of Cirque du Soleil’s 1999 creation is not their usual format: It’s a stadium show, in contrast to the longer-running and more intimate offerings in the trademark blue-and-gold grand chapiteau. Most of the arena’s seats are far from the stage, an unintentional distancing that shrinks the show except for a comparatively few close seats.
Still, vintage Cirque du Soleil, the two and a half hour spectacle oozes eclecticism. It draws its source from ancient Chinese circus traditions, reimagined through a rhapsodic Europop score and gorgeous iconic costumes that morph Chinese, African and Indian imagery. The title Dralion is a fusion of lion and dragon: Both appear, most wonderfully the lions that roll huge balls across the stage.
Lit by Chinese lanterns, an exquisite temple backdrop frames a curving and sprawling stage. There 52 acrobats, gymnasts, musicians, singers, and three determined clowns hold complete sway. They dexterously perform aerial pas de deux, swing from giant blue sashes and flying hoops, or dive through floor hoops. The well-honed ensemble indulge in elaborately choreographed jump roping, hand-balancing, and the awesome transport of bamboo poles on performers’ heads. There’s elegant juggling from Basile Dragon, whirling action on the “crossed wheel,” and a fabulous exhibition of precision leaping from an unseen trampoline onto and above the temple wall. (Because most are Chinese-based acts, they will look familiar to fans of Cirque Shanghai, a shorter and somewhat sharper show that packs much more entertainment into each of its 75 minutes, partly because there are no clowns. Read review here.)
More irritating than amusing, the three Italian-style clowns—Giovanni, Vincenti and Alberti–indulge in fulsome pantomime, rascally playing with hairpieces, indulging in mock wrestling, and cavorting with what looks like a huge revolving space station, always delivering the Cirque’s typical parodies of middle class respectability. Their one extended bit with a “planted” audience member lasts too long: You can feel the audience’s laughter drying up as they realize that this joke is ultimately on them. (No question, there’s a touch of malice in these merry pranksters.) Lacking the usual narrative thrust of most Cirque du Soleil productions, the clown skits seem more filler than content.
Cavils aside, Dralion will be catnip for Cirque du Soleil devotes. For good reason: Even in an overlarge venue it ravishes us with a meta-theatrical combination of delicacy and bravado that transforms old-school circus into flamboyant fantasy.
Dralion continues through July 1 at United Center, 1901 W. Madison (map). Tickets are $28-$80, and are available by phone (800-745-3000) or through TicketMaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at CirqueduSoleil.com. (Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes intermission)
Photos by Daniel Desmarais/Cirque du Soleil