REVIEW: Dralion (Cirque du Soleil)


Cirque’s ‘Dralion’ a visual feast but lacks thematic arch


Cirque du Soleil's 'Dralion', now playing at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates

Cirque du Soleil presents
Guided by Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix
Directed by
Guy Caron
Music composed by
Violaine Corradi
Sears Centre, Hoffman Estates (map)
through Jan 30  |  tickets: $33-$100  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Now the definition of circus in the 21st-century, Cirque du Soleil has brought millions of smiles and awe-struck looks to millions of faces. For a few nights, their 11-year-old tour of Dralion shacks up at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates before embarking on the rest of the continent. Its name coming from a mash-up of “dragon” and “lion,” this classic in the Cirque lineup touts a combination of Western and Eastern cultures. The acts are pulled from across the globe, with clowns from South America, dancers from Africa, and acrobats from the Far East. It’s a fascinating, eye-catching medley of cross-cultural pollination, and there is a lot of magic at work.

Cirque du Soleil's 'Dralion', now playing at the Sears Centre in Hoffman EstatesFor a group known for their conceptual wizardry and honest performances, however, Dralion comes across shallow. The concession stand is open the entire show. If you leave for a hot dog at any point, sure, you might miss some stunning performances, but you wouldn’t be totally lost upon reentry (did I mention that there’s free refills on popcorn and pop?!?)  Dralion would be better if it forced the audience to follow, instead of being a take-what-you-want of visual delights.

Director Guy Caron claims the show is inspired by Eastern philosophies, especially a sense of connection with nature. To be honest, I didn’t see any driving philosophy working behind-the-scenes. The four elements fire, water, earth, and wind are personified, but there isn’t any sense of journey or character ever.

It’s a shame, because Dralion contains some haunting moments. Amanda Orozco and Lorant Markocsany perform a beautiful and heart-wrenching aerial pas de deux on rich, blue silks in the second act. The ballet-like grace of the two puts one in a trance. Directly following, a large group of performers float around in a high-flying dance. Shrouded in shadow, the stage looks like a home to ghosts. Both moments take your breath away, leaving you hanging on every muscle movement.

Other times are less exciting. Three multi-lingual clowns speckle the show with a few skits here and there. Juan Carlos Bratoz, Michael Edward Hughes, and Christopher Neiman’s brand of comedy is very broad and feels forced at times, especially a bit with a fake hairpiece. The comic breaks seem like interruption.

Many of the show’s light-hearted moments really shine, too – like the chaotic hoop diving or the double-dutch insanity of the final act (see video above). Another astounding part is the bouncy antics of the trampoline jumpers, who literally bounce off the walls.

The ever-pounding orchestra, led by Stephen Poulin, gives the performers all the aural inspiration they need. The score focuses heavily on Eastern rhythms and massive amounts of percussion, but also pulls from classic rock and new age stylings. Agnes Sohier and Cristian Zabala lend their gorgeous voices and foreign tongues. For Cirque, the music score is almost as important as the visuals. The Dralion pas de deux - Cirque du Soleilattention to music direction and choreography ensure a dazzling, multi-sensory experience.

Nowadays, Cirque seems most concerned with tacking their shows onto the legends of superstar musicians, with Viva Elvis playing in Vegas and a Michael Jackson-inspired extravaganza in the works. Considering this trajectory, it’s nice to see one of the original innovative shows that propelled Cirque into the common conscience. There’s a zippy, wait-till-ya-see-this energy to the piece.

Judging from the empty rows at the Sears Centre, though, it seems like Cirque will have to keep evolving to keep audiences. The separate acts are truly amazing—Dralion really nailed down a winning cast. But the conceptual glue requires review. The show needs to dive deeper and more strongly connect to its fundamental ethos. Dralion’s biggest failing is that – possessing a more consistent, cognizant thematic arch – it could be even more remarkable and relatable. Then it would really be worth the ticket price.

Rating: ★★½

A scene from Cirque du Soleil's 'Dralion', now playing at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.



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REVIEW: Alegria (Cirque du Soleil)

Exquisite power and grace brought to an imperfect setting


Cirque du Soleil presents


At Sears Centre Arena
Through March 7 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

The magic of the big top is missing, sight lines are mostly flawed and the clowns are not so funny, but Cirque du Soleil’s Alegría is still full of enchantment, a sparking example of this Canadian circus/theater troupe’s best work. The arena staging makes the overall effect seem smaller and less encompassing than Cirque du Soleil under the big top, but still very worthwhile.

Highbars2 First mounted in 1994, Alegría toured for 14 years as a tent production. Last year, the company refitted it as an arena version, allowing short runs like the current one at Sears Center Arena, which ends Sunday.

Surreal and beautiful, the show’s themes trace old worlds vs. new ones and the voyages from one to the next. Dominque Lemieux‘s exquisite, shimmering costumes evoke the court of Louis XV and the explorers and natives of the colonies. There’s no narrative plot, and while the creators saw specific roles for the various colorful "characters" ambling in and around the circus acts, they won’t be obvious to anyone without a program. It doesn’t matter.

The clowns carry much of the story line, such as it is, in a variety of transportation-themed skits. Canadians Aron de Casmaker and Bubkus (Jesse Buck) are the silly ones, playing with a toy horse and paper airplanes; Russian Yuri Medvedev is the sad one, mooning over a suitcase and lost in a snowstorm. Even when they’re funny — as when de Casmaker and Bubkus do an amusing parody of other performers in Act II — the clowning business always goes on too long, especially in relation to the comparatively brief and breathtaking acts that we really came to see.

Among the most astonishing and wonderful bits are; "Power Track," an amazingly beautiful synchronized acrobatic dance, full of tumbling, soaring gymnasts on trampolines; Micah Naruo and Maui Sumeo‘s brilliant Hawaiian fire-knife dance; Russian bars, a petrifying acrobatic act in which the performers jolt into the air and come down onto perilously narrow, flexible boards; Baansansuran Enkhbaatar and Ganchimeg Tumurbaatar, two tiny, graceful contortionists from Mongolia; and, of course, a dazzling high-bar aerialist act.

Black_Singer thewhitesinger01

All of this comes at hefty prices, plus $15, cash, for parking, but you needn’t — and shouldn’t — get the costliest seats. Sears Centre Arena has few perfect seats for this show. If you get premium seats on the arena floor, you’ll likely have heads blocking your view of the lower parts of the stage. Those seated at the sides may not be able to see rear stage, and views of the aerialists’ high bar act may be obscured by the net. Try to sit in the stands directly across from the stage; you’ll have unobstructed views, but you’ll be a long way from the action — bring opera glasses.

Fortunately, a big part of this show’s power is in its music. Réné Dupéré’s original score rings with majesty and mystery, with multilingual lyrics that add to the exotic flavor of the show.

Backed by Swiss vocalist Malika Alaoui Ismaïli as the Black Singer, and a fine live band — all in white-faced clown makeup and false noses — led by Jean-Philippe Fortin, the splendid voice of French performer Nancy Arnaud (aka Nancy Chiche), as the White Singer, dominates the arena despite a combination of miking and arena acoustics that often makes it seem as if she’s lip-syncing to a recording. (This seems to have led the opening-night audience, sadly, to treat her performance as background music.) There’s a good reason that the "Alegría" soundtrack is Cirque’s bestseller; it was nominated for a Grammy in 1995 and spent 65 weeks on Billboard’s World Music Chart. Arnaud lacks the electrifying, sexy rasp of the original singer, Francesca Gagnon, but brings more sheer power and melodiousness to the songs.

The vibrant, haunting, namesake song of the finale, "Alegría," Spanish for "jubilation," will stay with you.


Rating: ★★★½





NOTE: This YouTube video portrays the Aerial High Bar Act as staged and performed in Cirque du Soleil’s tent-version of Alegria.

Alegria to open in Hoffman Estates (March 3-7)


Cirque du Soleil presents




in HOFFMAN ESTATES for EIGHT performances only
from MARCH 3 – 7, 2010

INFO: Cirque du Soleil is pleased to announce that the critically-acclaimed touring production Alegría will perform in Hoffman Estates at the Sears Centre Arena from March 3 – 7, 2010 for eight performances only.
Tickets are available at or by calling 1-800-745-3000.

alegria-Highbars2 ABOUT: Alegría is a Cirque du Soleil classic and an internationally acclaimed production that has entertained more than 10 million people worldwide since its world premiere in Montreal in 1994. In May 2009, Alegría embarked on a new journey, performing the same mesmerizing production, but now in arenas in North America, giving more people the opportunity to enjoy a Cirque du Soleil show in their own town.

Alegría is a Spanish word that means happiness, joy and jubilation and features an international cast of 55 performers and musicians from 15 countries and showcases breathtaking acrobatics.

Acts include the Synchro Trapeze and the intense and high-energy Aerial High Bars in which daring aerialists fly to catchers swinging more than 40 feet above the stage. The vibrancy of youth is alive in Power Track, a brilliant display of synchronized choreography and tumbling on a trampoline system hidden under the stage floor. In Russian Bars, artists fly through the air and perform spectacular somersaults and mid-air turns, landing on bars perched on the sturdy shoulders of catchers.

alegria-Fire_A alegria-Contorsion06 alegria-Roue09


Ticket Information:

Category 1, 2, 3

  • Adults: From $35 to $75
  • Children (12 & under): From $28 to $60
  • Military, Seniors & Students: From $31.50 to $67.50

Premium Tickets

  • Adults: $95
  • Children (12 & under): $76
  • Military, Seniors & Students: $85.50

Show Schedule (March 3 – 7, 2010):

  • Wednesday, March 3 at 7:30pm
  • Thursday, March 4 at 7:30pm
  • Friday, March 5 at 3:30pm and 7:30pm
  • Saturday, March 6 at 3:30pm and 7:30pm
  • Sunday, March 7 at 1pm and 5pm