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STAGE REVIEW

‘Dralion’ leaps high, but falls short

Cirque du Soleil’s latest offering misses ‘wow’ factor

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By Don Aucoin
Globe Staff / January 8, 2011

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It’s a rare Cirque du Soleil production that lacks a consistent “wow’’ factor. Alas, “Dralion’’ is such a show.

It’s not that there aren’t moments of individual and collective artistry in “Dralion,’’ which has arrived in Boston for a brief stay that ends Sunday. There are. These are skilled performers, after all, and there are times when you just shake your head in admiration.

But we come to Cirque du Soleil for a sensory immersion in an atmosphere of sustained magic, and there is not nearly enough of that in “Dralion.’’ Unlike Cirque’s “OVO,’’ which cast a riveting spell when it played in Boston last summer, a ho-hum aura hangs over “Dralion’’ that no amount of lavish spectacle can dispel.

In fact, roughly one-quarter of the program is devoted not to spectacle at all, but rather to alleged comedy by several charmless clowns who break the show’s momentum every time they lumber onstage with their time-killing hijinks. Moreover, unlike “OVO,’’ which at least had the pretense of a story line, there is no discernible narrative in “Dralion.’’ The show features four characters who represent Fire, Air, Earth, and Water, and “Dralion’’ is ostensibly inspired by Eastern philosophy, with its “neverending quest for harmony between humans and nature,’’ but this conceptual conceit is not really developed.

Of course, no one goes to a Cirque du Soleil show for the story or for a philosophy lesson. They go to be amazed by the gravity- and logic-defying stunts. But even the most impressive acrobatic and gymnastic routines in “Dralion’’ feel like something we could just as easily see at a Ringling Bros. or Big Apple circus. A Cirque show is supposed to feel special, and “Dralion’’ doesn’t.

In part, the Montreal-based organization is a victim of the expectations it has built up since it was founded in 1984. Its name has become so synonymous with eye-popping productions and outsized budgets that Julie Taymor, the director of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,’’ invokes Cirque du Soleil in a Time magazine interview this week to defend the $65 million cost of her ill-starred Broadway musical.

There was another similarity to “Spider- Man’’ during the performance of “Dralion’’ that I attended: A technical problem that forced an interruption barely a half hour into the show. Though it resumed after a five-minute delay, the glitch was an augury of the lack of continuity that bedevils “Dralion.’’

Some of the Cirque performers did make the most of their time in the spotlight. In a routine that is the highlight of the first half of the show, Han Yuzhen was a marvel of strength and suppleness, performing a kind of upside-down ballet while balanced on one hand. Equally remarkable upside-down feats were performed by aerial hoop performer Marie-Ève Bisson, who hung by one foot, then righted herself and whirled like a dervish, and generally showed what can be done with a single simple object when a performer has enough imagination and dexterity and training.

The show’s title is derived from a combination of dragon and lion. For many of the many youngsters on hand in Agganis Arena, a high point arrived when several large and colorful “Dralions’’ balanced on large wooden balls while moving in a steady forward procession.

Enthusiastic responses also greeted the more than a dozen performers who teamed up for a routine that involved hurtling and somersaulting through hoops, sometimes as the hoops were moving. In another sequence, aerialists bounced off trampolines and up onto a huge metallic backdrop, whizzing past one another. It was something to see, all right, but the aerialists in “OVO’’ brought more daredevil brio to the same routine.

During the course of the 2 1/2-hour “Dralion’’ (including a 20-minute intermission), a feeling of sameness descends as one stylized sequence follows another. Too often the show seems primarily animated by the principles of design, by a desire to create arresting visuals, rather than to take our breath away with sheer audacity and creativity.

So if you go to see “Dralion,’’ chances are you’ll find yourself commenting on how good it looks. What you’re not likely to say very often is: wow.

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.

DRALION

Presented by: Cirque du Soleil

Directed by: Guy Caron

Sets, Stéphane Roy. Lights, Luc Lafortune. Costumes, François Barbeau. Choreography, Julie Lachance

Composer and musical director,

Violaine Corradi

At: Agganis Arena, Boston. Through Sunday. Tickets: $45-$95 for adults, $36-$76 for children 12 and under

800-745-3000,

www.cirquedusoleil.com/dralion