TO SEASONED VIEWERS, THE FACE OF CIRQUE DU SOLEIL COULD USE A LIFT
The Cirque du Soleil production of Dralion should be the most fun for audiences unfamiliar with the Cirque’s unique blend of spectacle and variety acts. For veteran observers, the law of diminishing returns may be setting in.
During the late 1980’s and 1990’s, the Cirque wowed audiences throughout the world with its fresh and audacious revisionist approach to the traditional circus. Gone were the animal acts, the ringmaster, and the raucous brass band. Instead, the Cirque emphasized modern technology, striking special effects, dramatic lighting, and imaginative costumes. The band leaned heavily on Third World and New Age music, enhanced by a pair of leather-lunged female singers. The spectacle was exotic, sometimes grotesque, and dazzling.
The Cirque is now a worldwide institution, with six shows playing in Las Vegas alone, but the novelty has dissipated with time. There is still plenty of visual creativity, but we’ve seen much of it before. The variety performers remain world class, but the hand balancing act, the trampoline artists, the juggler, the hoop jumpers, and the contortionists are all familiar from other Cirque shows.
Dralion premiered in 1999 (artistic guide Gilles Ste-Croix and director Guy Caron), but has been revised to fit into arenas instead of the giant big tops of previous tours. But the show still offers plenty of bang for the buck, especially for first-time viewers. The company is large and skilled – 52 performers from 14 countries, with a pronounced Chinese look to the ensemble – and some variety acts still have the power to extract oohs and aahs from the spectators. Because this is a touring show, it necessarily must sacrifice some of the pageantry that illuminates the permanent shows in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Still, much of the production is eye-filling with its colorful and extravagant costumes (by François Barbeau) and lighting effects (by Luc Lafortune). The accompanying small orchestra is outstanding, highlighted by the pulsating rhythms of the two percussionists (the composer and musical Director is Violaine Corradi).
The stunner of the evening is Marie-Eve Bisson, who performs high above the stage in a hoop, risking life and limb with a remarkable display of acrobatics and balance, ending with an astounding and blurring sequence of spins. Basile Dragon dropped a few balls during his juggling act but those glitches only underscored the brilliance of the remainder of his performance. The pas de deux by Lorant Markocsany and Amanda Orozco was a soaring exhibition of aerial grace. The solo hand balancing by Han Yuzhen was superb, but the contortionist-and-balancing act by a group of six young ladies was a disappointment.
The hoop diving act has appeared in other Cirque shows, but a troupe of young men still executes marvels of timing and agility as they, um, dive through an arrangement of hoops. On opening night the diving accuracy came up short a few times, knocking over several hoops, but overall the act was still a great crowd-pleaser, as was a massed rope-skipping act that included a pyramid of performers rhythmically jumping over a moving jump rope.
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.
Unfortunately, along with its pageantry and outstanding variety acts, Cirque du Soleil has established a tradition of presenting relentlessly unhumorous clowns, firmly upheld in Dralion. Three clowns (often joined by a plant from the audience) go through a series of ostentatiously dreary routines that vividly demonstrate the gulf between clowning that tries to be funny and clowning that really is funny. I didn’t crack one smile during all the interminable mugging and prancing and braying, though many in the audience seemed to find the clowns amusing. I’ve seen at least a dozen Cirque du Soleil shows and I don’t recall a single clown act worth its abundant stage time (Clown Act design by Michel Dallaire).
Driver alert: parking at Rosemont costs a cash only $20 per vehicle. That isn’t funny, either.
photos by Daniel Desmarais © Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont through June 24
and the United Center in Chicago through July 1
for tickets, call 800 745 3000 or visit http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/dralion
then continuing on National Tour through 2012
for show dates, cities and tickets, visit http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/dralion/tickets.aspx
for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com