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Photograph by Al Seib

Hoop Dreams: Colorful hoop divers are among the many acts that take a cue from the Chinese circus in Cirque du Soleil's newest show, 'Dralion.'

In Like a 'Dralion'

Cirque du Soleil continues to amaze with new variations on old tricks

By Heather Zimmerman

CIRCUSES HAVE ALWAYS SOLD AMAZEMENT. The whole idea is to show the audience something we can scarcely believe--and in that, even in the absence of most traditional circus trappings, Cirque du Soleil is still unrivaled. Aside from its gaudy big-top, the only aspect of the circus that Cirque du Soleil has entirely retained is showmanship. By now it's well known that the Montreal-based company features no animals in its acts, only acrobats, dancers and clowns, performing in high-concept, yet often whimsical, themed shows.

With Cirque du Soleil becoming such a highly successful brand name, it wouldn't have been that surprising if the troupe had offered an experience a little less dazzling than previous productions for its newest touring show, Dralion. Admittedly, I was half-expecting it (I mean, they're even an attraction at Disney World these days), but if anything, this new show proves that the Cirque continues to excel at the art of creating imaginative spectacles.

Cirque du Soleil shows have always featured a multicultural sensibility, and Dralion builds on that aspect, taking a great deal of inspiration from the Chinese circus tradition, both in the style of the acts and the production design, which also incorporates elements of African and Indian styles. The centerpieces of the show are acrobats, who, both alone and in groups, perform feats of contortion, balancing and airborne tumbling; even Chinese dragons pull off some pretty agile moves. One team of acrobats uses a teeter board to form impossibly high human towers; another group launches itself through a collection of rotating and stationary hoops.

The show has also re-imagined some of the most familiar circus acts. The trapeze becomes the double trapeze, with two couples performing synchronized acrobatics. Even juggling gets a limber update combined with a contortionist/modern-dance performance. During acts like this one, Cirque du Soleil's flair for dramatic presentation truly shows, transforming something as mundane as the juggler adding another ball to his trick into an event of seemingly celestial design, each ball carefully delivered to him by a dancer suspended from the ceiling.

The clowns of Cirque du Soleil work on a similar principle, manipulating simple, pedestrian things--but for laughs. One clown's nervous, breathless giggling into a bullhorn was somehow hilarious every time he did it. Likewise, his cohort turned an embarrassed tug at the hem of her short skirt into almost an entire routine, and the recurring minor humiliation of a hapless "audience member" became the focus of many of the clowns' scenes, which were interspersed with the serious acts. The clowns do have most of their fun at the expense of the ordinary, but interestingly, their last scene is a spoof of many of the acts featured in the show, poking fun at the Cirque itself. With Dralion, Cirque du Soleil certainly proves that it can still astound, but even more thrilling is that this troupe, for all of its beautiful theatrics designed to impress, still demonstrates such joy in creating that kind of astonishment.

Dralion plays at the San Jose Water Company, San Fernando and Delmas streets, San Jose; Thu, 8pm, Fri, 5:30 and 9:30pm, Sat, 4 and 8pm, Sun, 1 and 5pm, Tue-Wed, 8pm. $39-$60 adults/$27.25-$42 children. 800.678.5440

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From the April 13-19, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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