The anticipation is tangible. Excited mutterings blend with the soft African and Indian-inspired rhythms whispering through the air. The men seen climbing rope ladders, testing flashing lights and double checking safety precautions simply serve to whet the appetite for the show to come.
Clowns emerge from the wings to hype the already high-spirited crowd. Inevitably, they’re quite an annoying bunch – especially for those few unlucky audience members singled out for forced hugs and kisses. Nevertheless, they invoke some laughs and their traditional slapstick antics serve as an entertaining distraction for the wait.
At last comes the conventional big-top announcement of Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion. The lights dim and the volume increases, and a white sheet plunges to the floor to reveal a colossal metallic wall that dominates the back of the stage. The four elements – Fire, Water, Air and Earth – materialise into their human equivalents and command the entire arena with a hypnotic, sensual dance.
The Goddess of Earth is distinctly African as she stomps the ground and waves the ochre fringes around her arms and legs. Water is depicted in greens and turquoises and its Goddess moves as fluidly as the ocean in Indian-inspired dance. Simultaneously, the goddess of air with her partner soar above the stage from royal blue ribbons and perform an aerial Pas de Deux that possesses a graceful and balletic quality. The element of Fire, whether god or demon, takes form as a martial arts guru whose movements hint at ancient Chinese culture. In the world of Dralion, harmony is achieved when these elements are brought together. Customs of diverse cultures are merged into this alternate and mystical land where magic simply has to exist. It’s enchanting.
With Dralion as with its former shows, Cirque du Soleil once again fearlessly presents jaw-dropping, gravity-defying acts that hold its audience members spellbound… if peering through their fingers in terror. Watching the acrobats create human pyramids while skipping ropes, or bouncing off trampolines onto narrow ledges is both breathtaking and utterly nerve-wracking. Awe and fascination for their bravery and skill is tempered by relief when each act concludes without a death or at the least a blood-soaked mangling.
Aesthetically the show is a feast: costumes, make up, sets, props, lighting, colours and textures are rich and delightful. But perhaps the most visually appealing of the acts is the juggler. His extreme flexibility and choreography are matched by a speed and accuracy that is nothing short of perfection.
True to its principle of collaborating cultures, the music and vocal performances of the show are almost supernatural as traditional sounds of Africa, India and China are blended to create the melodies and beats, accompanied by lyrics in the unique and unknown language of Dralion, as sung by the angelic, celestial voice of the L’Ame Force.
The dralions, surprisingly, are not the highlight of the show. Named for the two powerful creatures which possess beauty and majesty – the lion and the dragon – they are intended to embody both the east and the west. But rather than being a commanding, dignified and kingly presence, they tend more towards the adorable as they march around the stage in a quirky, childlike walk while ruffling their bodies and fringe-like manes.
Ultimately, Dralion represents a world that should have been. In our fast-paced lifestyles tainted by the corruption and greed of modern society, we find ourselves all too eager to be transported to an existence ruled by harmony and peace. Sadly, it is only possible to remain there for a couple of hours, but soak up Cirque du Soleil in all its splendor and its vivid brilliance will stay with you forever.
Cirque du Soleil – Dralion runs from 5 – 17 March at the Grand Arena.