Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Dralion’ at Baltimore 1st Mariner Arena by Carolyn Kelemen

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At Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion, which is playing now at Baltimore’s 1st Mariner Arena through Sunday, one can thrill to spectacles inside an air-conditioned arena never sullied by the hoof print of a wild beast. In fact, don’t expect to see any animal acts in a Cirque show ever! Though there are acrobats, jugglers, strong men and trapeze artists, there’s more dazzle! Dralion is an enchanting two hour plus, 11-act show. The French-speaking performance troupe combines music, dance and all the elements of theater in fresh and wholly unexpected ways. Here on the eye-level stage, created for touring shows rather than in its trademark blue-and-yellow tent, you will discover a troupe of multi-talented performers who magically transform themselves into clowns, acrobats and jugglers, but with a state-of-the-art, quasi-Continental je ne sais quoi.

For over a quarter of a century, the Quebec-based Cirque du Soleil continues to amaze people of all ages, including my 10 year-old grandson, Sam. He thinks Dralion,is truly amazing. Why? “Because there were amazing acrobatic tricks, special effects, and magic,” he explains. And he especially loved the clown characters. His cousins Nico and Max were fascinated by the daring duo who seemingly floated in the air in the “Aerial Pas de Deux,” and the troupe of jump ropers (a group of nine, all on top of each other) in the second-act highlight, “Skipping.” As for me, I close my eyes when a person perches atop a human pyramid or walks across a wire as if there’s not a care in the world.

At the Wednesday evening performance, when I did manage to squint at the characters in Dralion, I must confess I was impressed. After pre-show goofy activity with three clowns: Vincenti (Cachi Bratoz), Alberti (Courtenay Stevens), and adorable Giovanni (Facundo Gimenez), the show opens with “Lantern,” where a young villager, holding a giant egg timer and lantern, invites his village to gather for some sort of celebration. Then faster than you can say “quirky cirque,” a magic kingdom erupts amid swirling clouds of dry ice and cross-lighting, brilliantly designed by Luc Lafortune.

Performers slither down poles and pop out of trap doors to invite the audience to enter an alternate reality – in this case, the faraway land of ancient Asia. Fusing the 3,000-year-old tradition of Chinese acrobatic arts with the multidisciplinary approach of Cirque du Soleil, the show transcends the boundaries. The name “Dralion” is drawn from two main symbols – the dragon representing the East, and the the lion, representing the West.

Highlights in the first act of Dralion include “Diabolos,” a troupe of wunderkinds who manipulate gigantic dragon poles that resemble a Chinese New Year celebration. Meanwhile, our clowns ascent to the Galaxy, a gathering place during acts for those who don’t mind heights, some dangling from this abode, all covered in white curtains. Everything about Dralion is choreographed, planned, orchestrated and staged as carefully and elaborately as a Broadway musical. The music here casts its own spell through a mix of classical, rock and synthesized sounds created by Viulaine Corradi –  loved those syncopated drum beats by Brazilian artist Alexandre Reis. The most improvisational aspect of the whole production, in fact, is the comedy routine where one of the clowns searches the audience for a hapless participant. Fueling the surreal effect are shimmering costumes that fit like second skin. Red and gold are the predominant colors.

If I had to single out one favorite act, however, it would be the “dralions” falling backward from three stories high, bouncing off a trampoline, and landing on a wall, attached somehow without any ropes. A close second are the hoop dancers who managed to do things with their bodies that defy words.

It’s hard to believe that I saw the first touring Cirque show in New York City’s Battery Park 25 years ago, followed by three or four renditions in Virginia, now three in Baltimore. Years ago at a press conference in Washington – before Cirque went to Las Vegas – reporters talked with Guy Laliberte, the creator of Cirque du Soleil. He spoke of his Canadian roots, admiration for his country’s folk tales, and his passion for saving the planet. Interestingly, Dralion touches on these ideals as it alternates between primitive and modern myths,, with more French dialogue than we’ve seen in the past.

This time around there is a lot more dance, thanks to the talented choregraphers Julie Lachance and Lin Yung Biau. Kudos, too, to Artistic Directors Alison Crawford and Sean McKeown. Dralionis fast-paced and geared for all ages, and you can see from just about anywhere in the cavernous arena. The intermission is a bit too long – 25 minutes to browse the souvenir booths – but worth the wait for the grand finale where all the performers come together in blazing glory.

Oceane is goddess of Water. As queen of movement she controls, through the art of dance, the movement of the oceans. Her universe is green. Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, with one 25-minute intermission.

Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion plays through Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 at the 1st Mariner Arena -201 West Baltimore Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.