Fantastic gymnastics: A colorful creature from Dralion performs amazing balancing acts.
Fantastic gymnastics: A colorful creature from Dralion performs amazing balancing acts.
courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

Gasping for Aerial

The creative process never ends -- that's the secret behind the success of Cirque du Soleil's Dralion, a lush, dramatic performance combining traditional aspects of the circus with dance, theater and acrobatics, staged in the Montreal troupe's signature avant-garde style.

Just as a musician improvises on a song's theme or a painter returns to a canvas to add pigment, the people involved with Dralion have kept the show, which nears its fourth year, somewhat of a work-in-progress. Sylvie Galarneau, the artistic director, says her job is "to make sure that the show evolves, without getting too far from what was the idea of the creation."

Working with 57 international cast members, from acrobats and clowns to singers and musicians, Galarneau understands that the artists grow and mature throughout the run of the production. "As they work on their craft, maybe they'll add some movement, some changes," she says. "No one wants to stagnate." She stresses the importance of recognizing the unique talents that each performer brings to the show, since the entire group is affected by even one change in the cast. "I'd like to think that's how the show stays fresh and alive," says Galarneau.


Cirque du Soleil's Dralion

Tempe Diablo Stadium, 2200 West Alameda in Tempe

Opens at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, November 13, and continues through December 8. Tickets are $31.50 to $65. Visit or call 1-800-678-5440 to purchase.

A series of a dozen moving tableaux, the two-and-a-half-hour program was inspired by Chinese culture and includes aerial and balancing feats by a troupe of Chinese acrobats. Dralion is very different from other Cirque du Soleil performances, says Galarneau -- "very bright, vibrant, and the pacing on the stage is faster."

"The costumes I've designed exactly to boost that dynamic," adds François Barbeau, Dralion's costume designer. "From the beginning, it was a determination to make it very strong colors." Barbeau visited the Chinese performers in their homeland to observe the choreography before coming up with a color scheme based on the four elements: blue air, green water, red fire and ochre earth. "We also have a fifth one, called âme-force -- it's the strength of the soul in Chinese mythology," says Barbeau.

The show's whimsical name is also inspired by Chinese mythology -- it's a combination of "dragon" and "lion," two important, powerful creatures in Chinese tradition. This seems fitting because Cirque du Soleil's performances blend drama in with the stunts. Galarneau explains, "Once you start working with us, we all work in the same direction -- you cannot simply be an acrobat anymore. You have to get your skill as an actor."

With an acclaimed musical score of exotic global beats and mysterious vocals, exquisite lighting and a custom stage set inside Cirque's own Grand Chapiteau big top that can hold 2,500 people, there's no question that Dralion's stunning theatricality impresses audiences. But beyond the pageantry, visitors truly appreciate the physical feats. Galarneau says, "I think they're really amazed at what the human body can do.


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