CIRQUE du Soleil have brought their ‘Dralion’ show to Manchester’s Phones 4U Arena.
Dralion, a mythical creature, half dragon half lion, is said to fuse eastern and western traditions. It’s a short-history myth, having been created, it appears, by Cirque du Soleil’s creative team rather than emerging from the mists of time.
What child, or adult, hasn’t ever wished to run up walls?
It’s my first visit to Cirque du Soleil, whose name brings an expectation, almost a guarantee, of entrancing shows, unbelievable feats built into a strong creative story-telling. I’m taking my youngest niece, and her twitter conversations suggest the expectation is near universal.
The show certainly has entrancing moments, a few edge-of-the seat moments, and moments when you can’t believe a human being can do that.
My favourites, crowd favourites too, were the trampoline artists who combined mostly simple trampoline work with running up walls and perching on ledges. The walls almost resemble castle battlements, and had the technique been available hundreds of years ago it could, you feel, have changed the course of medieval history. The lengthy but not over-long routine gains the biggest cheer of the night and leaves my niece announcing her intention to run away and join the circus.
Other favourites included the ‘crossed-wheel’ man, a sort of human gyroscope, the aerial Pas de Deux, the hoop-jumpers and the skippers.
The show is introduced and interspersed with three ‘clowns’, amusing at first but slightly overstaying their welcome, who then return, and return.
Costumes are superb but too often are merely showcased by performers walking round the stage, arms outstretched.
Musicianship, a band of six plus three singers, is solid. The strongly rhythmic numbers, with energetic, driving djembe drumming, are great; particularly the one accompanying the Bamboo poles with a rhythm reminiscent of the Seoul Olympics. The sung numbers are more nondescript, though impressively sung designed to appeal to an international audience perhaps.
An East-West fusion concept is intended to underline the show but, apart from the inclusion of human representations of air, water, fire and earth, the imagery doesn’t resonate with large parts of the audience.
Performances as a whole are entertaining and accurate even impressive, but certainly don’t justify the hype that once regularly encased any Cirque du Soleil tour. And the attempt at spirituality isn’t aided by the arena’s bag search policy, a £12 programme charge, and a walk down an unlit rail-free staircase in a half empty dark arena.
What works best are not the fancy costumes but the acts, which take simple playground pleasures, climbing walls, piggy-backing, skipping and trampolining, and propel them to levels we hadn’t yet imagined yet can immediately engage with. What child, or adult, hasn’t ever wished to run up walls? Trampoline-propelled wall-running is just a simple extension, beyond the reach of the mere humans in the audience, but not a total fantasy.
Cirque du Soleil describe themselves as ‘a dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment’. Guy Laliberté, one of the talented dreamers and street entertainers who started the company, has seen his fortune expand as his dream succeeded. Cirque du Soleil is now a major global producer, with shows running around the world. It’s a brand, a corporate and performance giant. Highly professional, the edge has disappeared.
‘Running away to join the circus’ is no longer an act of rebellion, a daring risk-taking adventure. Providing it’s Cirque du Soleil recruiting, employment in the circus looks like a solid career move, even for accountants, lawyers and marketing executives. The show is a well-structured package with superb high-points and a degree of coherence, but it’s just a little too safe, even if the performers don’t have safety nets and harnesses.
Dralion will perform at the Phones 4u Arena in Manchester from Wednesday 11 June to Sunday 15 June 2014.
Follow Joan Davies on Twitter at @joand7
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