The award-winning Canadian circus company, Cirque du Soleil, returns to London this week for the eighth year running (See News, 9 Apr 2003). Its new show Dralion receives its European premiere this Thursday 8 January 2004 at the Royal Albert Hall, where it continues its limited season to 8 February.

Billed as a fusion of ancient Chinese circus tradition and the avant-garde approach of Cirque du Soleil, the show's name is a combination of dragon (representing the East) and the lion (the West). According to marketing material, it derives much of its inspiration from Eastern philosophy with its perpetual quest for harmony between humankind and nature.

Dralion is performed by a company of more than 55 artists from ten countries. Amongst the dare-devil and highly skilled acts on offer are: hoop diving, teeterboard, double trapeze, aerial pas de deux, single handbalancing, bamboo poles, juggling, the aerial hop and ballet on lights as well as a variety of other clowns, acrobats and dancers.

Cirque du Soleil was established in Quebec in 1984 by a troupe of street performers. Since then, it has grown to employ over 2,000 people (a quarter of them performers) presenting eight shows across four continents. To date, the company has sold more than 35 million tickets for its shows, which blend traditional circus skills with street entertainment and big-budget effects.

At one point, the company had plans to build a permanent home in the capital on the site of the derelict Battersea Power Station, where they've previously played to capacity crowds in their "Grand Chapiteau" big top. The Battersea plans were abandoned in December 2001. More recently, they have been named in connection with planned redevelopment of Leicester Square (See The Goss, 24 Mar 2003).

In the meantime, the January visit to the Royal Albert Hall has become such a fixture that, say Cirque’s spokespeople, it is “now all but formally established as the company’s yearly London residence”.

- by Terri Paddock