Left - Ballet on light. Costumes Francois Barbeau. Photo Al Seib. Cover - Foot Juggling. Photo - Ryuichi Oshimoto
The regression to an innocent, wide-eyed childhood when you walk into the Cirque du Soleil Grand Chapiteau is entirely inexorable. And why would you want to resist anyway?
For all its shameless commercialism - the thankyous to proud sponsors, the airport-priced food stands, the funnel into well-stocked, hideously expensive merchandising tents, the red carpet of D-grade local celebrities on opening night - this wildly popular globe-trotting circus really is one of the happiest places on earth. It certainly can lay claim, with its impressive scale and ubiquitous scope, to being the new Greatest Show on Earth.
The jaw really does drop at the ‘no human should be able to do that' athletic feats; the eyes really do widen at the ‘how'd they do that' moments of magic; the ‘ohhs' and ‘ahhs' as gymnasts of such extraordinary world-class talent float so gracefully through the air are completely involuntary, like the giggling at clowns so stupid it makes you feel guilty.
Dralion, the latest traveling show from the Cirque du Soleil juggernaut which has pitched its tent at Hamilton in Brisbane, elicits all that and more. If it's not their finest work, it still remains a spectacularly magical night out.
The magic, really, comes from the imaginatively-crafted fantasyland inside the big top. A giant metallic sun provides a backdrop to a cast of lavishly-costumed characters from intercontinental-inspired worlds. And the live band and vocalists set the suitably ethereal mood to the dazzling colour and movement before your eyes.
Dralion is billed as the fusion of ancient Chinese circus tradition and the famed avant-garde approach of the company. Its place and time is suspended somewhere between east and west (the name is derived from the dragon of the east and the lion representing the west) and built around the four symbols of air, water, fire and earth.
In truth, it never quite melds. The African-inspired, dark-skinned Goddess of Earth (Gaya) jars against the more Asian themes and, oddly and hilariously, a posse of Mediterranean clowns. Their operatic interjections, with a not-so-hapless audience recruit, are inspired. They wander the bleachers causing havoc as the crowd arrives, deliver the ‘in case of emergency' speech with brilliant incompetence, and then punctuate the show with very funny slapstick.
Which is all merely a platform, of course, for the awesome gymnastics. Highlights? The risk and romance of the Pas de deux, a couple intertwined and suspended from the stage bound in satin cloth; a group of too-young ballerinas perched on points and balancing on light bulbs; the tumbling two-man dralions who somehow manage to negotiate a swing atop a rolling ball; stunning slight-of-hand juggling; a tiny young girl who contorts her body balanced on one hand for so long it's almost excruciating to watch; and perhaps most spectacularly a trampoline act that has performers scaling the face, rope-less, of the Dralion sun.
To compare this production with Cirque du Soleil's previous Australian show, the exotic Varekai, is to say Dralion is probably more stylised but ultimately less spectacular. Indeed, the finale is almost a false finish; suddenly the cast is taking its bows and you wonder if there was more to come.
But maybe, like every Disney movie you saw as a child, you just don't want it to end. Surrender to this very strange, very expensive world and get in touch with your inner child. You'll smile giddily for some time after.
Cirque du Soleil
Venue: Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) | McArthur Avenue, off Remora Road, Hamilton
Dates: 27 November 2008 - January 4 2009
Tickets: $55.00 to $119.00 for adults; $35.00 to $95.00 for children
Bookings: www.cirquedusoleil.com or by phone on 1300 130 300