Cirque du Soleil’s "Dralion"— a synthesis of Arabic music, eastern pageantry and western circus tropes — has been touring on and off for 14 years, making it one of the oldest shows among Cirque’s current repertoire. At its premise, “Dralion” embodies the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Characters include Gaya, an African dancer-cum-earth goddess; Kaya, an Atlas-figure who shoulders a giant silver globe; and Little Buddah the chosen child, perhaps representing all stewards of the earth. The symbolism is murky, but the individual acts are stunning.
“Dralion’s” most cohesive quality is that of absurdity on display, set against eastern percussions, operatic soundscapes and new age melodies. Wobbly dragon-lion creatures traverse lengthy seesaws, rolling giant balls underfoot. An acrobat unfurls from the sky in a breathless free fall of red ribbon and spin, and later, the stage becomes a glowing magical lantern of fragile, fantastic silhouettes. They rotate slowly, lulling the audience to Neverland.
The show opens with a frenzied display of colors and dancers before settling into a contemplative balancing piece. Han Yuzhen, a petite woman in a reflective green unitard, curls and stretches her body. All of her weight rests on a single hand. She’s a living sculpture, a marvel of tension and grace, but what’s most impressive is the requisite strength.
Yuzhen is Chinese. She and 25 of her colleagues were recruited from a single circus in Shandong. Gaya was a dancer in her native Ivory Coast, two of the trampoline jumpers are Ukrainian, the fire character is Taiwanese. The performers represent an archetypal of human zenith. Their glowing bodies are cultivated, supple, sinewy perfection, contorting and supporting in impossible ways.
This is a circus, and a circus is fun. Punky clowns bound across the stage, flipping through hoops, posturing street poses, flopping shiny blue Mohawks and tumbling through double-dutch jump ropes. At one point, they pile into a human pyramid and jump rope as a single entity.
The playground acts are impressive, but the darker, more controlled pieces contain the show’s true substance. Marie-Eve Bisson dazzles on the aerial hoop. She is —in glances— darting, weaving, whirling, and balletic, even swinging suspended from her chin. Part juggler, part rhythmic gymnast, Vladislav Myagkostupov steals the first act. He’s seductive and disconcerting, rolling and popping shimmering balls off his body.
But the arial pas de deux, performed by Amanda Orozco and Lorant Markocsany, steals the whole show. They’re captivating on the ground, their tiniest motions exquisite and expressive. They chasse like ballerinas and spin like ice skaters, even before scaling the silky blue fabric (meant to represent air) and soaring in tandem above the stage, in something akin to Aladdin’s magic carpet ride.
The weakest point of the show is the western comedy quartet. Slapstick and replete with potty humor, the troupe manage a few genuine moments of comic surprise. But often (especially in the first act) the humor seems forced, like maybe it’s just stalling for costume changes. I find my eyes wandering to the kid down front, about four-years-old, who is parodying the acrobats. In a tiny bit of floor space, he turns lopsided flips and coils into a fetal position. A star is born.