East-meets-West influences run rampant in "Dralion," a former Cirque du Soleil big-tent show that debuted in 1999 in Montreal but has since been re-scaled to tour to indoor arenas since 2010.
This arena version of "Dralion" previously played in January 2011 at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, and has now returned for back-to-back engagements at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont (now through Sunday, June 24) and at the United Center in Chicago from Wednesday, June 27, to Sunday, July 1.
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Cirque du Soleil's "Dralion"★ ★ ★
Location: Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim Road, Rosemont; Also at United Center, 1901 W. Madison St., Chicago, (800) 745-3000 or cirquedusoleil.com/dralion
Showtimes: In Rosemont: 7:30 p.m. June 22, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. June 23, 1 p.m. June 24; In Chicago: 7:30 p.m. June 27-29, 1 and 5 p.m. July 1
Running time: About two and a half hours with a 20-minute intermission
Parking: $20 for nearby pay lot
Rating: For general audiences
Like many a Cirque du Soleil show, there isn't a specific plot per se to "Dralion." Instead, it offers up elaborately and imaginatively designed costumes to embellish amazingly fit and limber circus artists as they perform feats of flexibility, balance, strength and dance.
Things start off with some very amusing preshow antics by a trio of clowns (Facundo Gimenez, Gonzalo Munoz an Michael Hugues) offering up plenty of expertly timed physical slapstick and spouting Italian-accented gibberish. Lest Italian-American groups take offense at the stereotyping, they might want to remember that it was Venetian explorer Marco Polo who helped spark European imaginations about the customs of the Far East, so the comical Italianate clowning is appropriate.
While these clowns make intermittent appearances throughout the show (even to burlesque many of the dazzling circus acts in the second act), the major recurring character is an impish Little Buddha (Charli K) with a magical hourglass that conjures up the personifications of the four elements of Earth (Dioman Gbou), Fire (Dante Adela), Air (Amanda Orozco) and Water (Tara Catherine Pandeya).
With these four elements as an inspiration filtered largely through an Asian circus lens, "Dralion" director Guy Caron and his design team (particularly costume designer Francois Barbeau and lighting designer Luc Lafortune) have a field day applying extraordinary amounts of extravagance and whimsy to the many physical acts.
Some stunning images include a cyclorama of silhouetted circus performers that opens the second act and the silvery crossed-wheel spinning of performer Jonathan Morin. A large contingent of Asian acrobats and contortionists also pull off dazzling feats including balancing and tossing massive bamboo lantern poles, leaping and flipping through a series of stacked hoops and lots of skip-rope timing tricks.
As with most Cirque du Soleil shows, "Dralion" features an ethereal Enya-esque score full of vocalese (credited here to Violaine Corradi) featuring elaborately costumed singers Cristian Zabala and Agnes Sohoer. The clowns also make a point to emphasize the live musicians of "Dralion" with an Italian exclamation of "Musica Veritas!" (one of the few bits of understandable dialogue in the show).
One reason for Cirque du Soleil's continued success is its glossy packaging of human circus traditions to appeal to all ages and nationalities. Though I missed "Dralion" in its original big-tent format, it's arena incarnation shows it still has plenty of razzle dazzle to share with audiences.