NOTE: The following review dates from January 2004 and this production's premiere run at the Royal Albert Hall.
Cirque du Soleil may have been founded out of a group of street entertainers in Quebec, but now this corporate circus behemoth bestrides the universe like a colossus. With some 2,500 employees, working on a total of nine shows that are currently running around the world and that are seen by millions of people in a single year, it’s Big Business – with Big Prices to match. Tickets for box and ringside seating for their annual Royal Albert Hall gig have now reached more than £50.
But does the show live up to the price, or even more crucially, to expectations? Having long ago set new standards for circus production values that exceed those of the most lavish Broadway musicals, how are they going to impress us this time?
The answer, with Dralion, is as ever with the simplicity, elegance and beauty of the human (and frequently superhuman) interactions housed within it. If anything, Dralion is a more understated show than usual, quietly offering up its enchantments without too much distracting packaging.
Yes, there’s a giant circular rig over the centre of the stage from where the aerial acts float and are suspended with ethereal exhilaration. And yes, there’s a set at the rear of it that looks like a giant car radiator grill, up and down which clamber groups of what look like horizontal mountaineers (a trick I remember from the Argentinean circus troupe De La Guarda when they brought their show to London’s Roundhouse).
But the tricks are otherwise confined to feats of human skills (not to mention, frequently, the skill of their feet) that are simply breathtaking. And, as supplemented this time by a large troupe of some 37 Chinese acrobats, who - diving through hoops, becoming human pyramids, balancing on balls and each other and skipping between ropes – give the show an authentic cohesion, it is a surprisingly graceful evening of fine artistry.
With virtuoso acts of human sculpture, movement and balance being created before our eyes, it is beautifully accompanied by live music and some fine counter-tenor singing.
But no Cirque show is complete without dreadful clowns, and a ‘plant’ in the audience whom they prey on, and this show is no exception. The magic dispels whenever they make their too-frequent appearances, but fortunately the spell (and spellbinding) of wonder is quickly restored when they leave.