Alexandra Park, Auckland
July 9-August 23 | Reviewed by Renee Liang

ENTERING the Grand Chapiteau, I’m unexpectedly buzzed by a feeling of excitement. We’ve walked in from a cold wet bastard of an afternoon, bad even for Auckland in winter. We’ve been funneled through the souvenir tent, sneering slightly at the poor sods who are already buying. And now we have been shown to our seats, and the atmosphere in the near-capacity tent is crackling.

Not that ‘tent’ is an adequate description for what I’m sitting in. Under the huge canvas top which seats thousands, there is a stage hiding a complex array of machinery, hidden lifts, pulleys, trapdoors and screens which are used to create the magic of the show. It’s not for nothing that you successfully tour the world for 25 years.

Dralion, one of nine travelling shows by the Cirque du Soleil, has been touring for eleven years and Auckland is about the 60th city they have visited. So, naturally, everything goes without a hitch. It’s hard not to lapse into superlatives when describing this type of show. It is pure entertainment: the human body at its most finely honed, doing things which should probably be impossible. Atheletes and their skills are most definitely the stars of this show. The story is and never has been that important.

That being said, the somewhat clichéd premise of Dralion – the meeting of the cultures of East and West – does allow for some visually spectacular costumes (by Francois Barbeau) and sets (by Stephane Roy). No expense seems to have been spared. The 65 performers in this show are clothed in colourful garments borrowing unflinchingly from seemingly every culture, imagined, stereotyped or otherwise. Thus Chinese acrobats wear Aboriginal dots while pretending to be African and a Caucasian dancer sways her hips in an approximation of Hindu dance while encouraging her Chinese minions to fight with Oriental fire dancers. But this is a mythical world, so anything goes.

The many complex set changes take place smoothly, ably aided and distracted by some pot-bellied clowns. Early on, they get the whole audience singing along and participating in a joke wedding. And if they can get the famously reserved Kiwi audience to respond that quickly, they must be good clowns.

But back to those atheletes. It’s great to see that the company has constructed a winning formula that not only keeps the ancient circus arts alive, but supports its artists to keep developing and pushes their skills to the extreme. Innovation and surprise are also factors. The most rewarding act of the show, for me, were the trampoliners. They seemed to have a nonchalant disregard for gravity, walking straight up the side of a three storey high wall and strolling across a suspended platform mid-bounce. In truth, all of the performances showed finesse in choreography and clear dedication in pushing the body to its absolute limits.

Only one moment in the show disturbed me. I raised it with some ladies in the toilet queue at interval but they seemed unconcerned, so maybe I was the only member of the audience to feel uncomfortable about a shoe thrown at the head of a character. It was, I think, an innocent joke, but it did take me out of the dream world for a moment.

At the end of the day, Dralion is all about spectacle. And how well the Cirque Du Soleil do that by now. Those who enter the Grand Chapiteau with no expectations other than to be excited and entertained will love this show. And for those others who seek a ‘meaning’ to everything – you can buy the book at the souvenir counter.