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Cirque du Soleil productions pair incredible physical spectacle with gut-busting comedy and for those reasons, they are not to be missed. Cirque’s “Dralion” came to Raleigh’s PNC arena last Wednesday, and though its choreography was perfectly executed, it wasn’t my favorite Cirque production.

“Dralion” illustrated the quest for harmony between humans and nature, as described in Eastern philosophy. Different colors and acts represented the four natural elements – air, water, fire and earth – and the “Dralion”, a lion-dragon hybrid, represented the blending of Eastern and Western cultures.

Dralions. Picture credit : Daniel Desmarais / Costume credit : François Barbeau

Camirand, clockwise: Gaya, Azala, Yao, Oceane. Picture credit : Daniel Desmarais / Costume credit : François Barbeau

Each natural element had a representative soloist: Oceane, the Water goddess, draped herself in green and performed traditional Indian dance vocabulary; Azala, goddess of the Air, wore blue and ruled the aerial silks; Gaya, goddess of the Earth, dressed in ochre and expressed herself through African dance; and Yao, the Fire god, sported red and gold and wielded a spear. Each spirit governed the performers whose acts fell in his or her kingdom, and together, the “Dralion” company created a balanced ecosystem onstage.

But that doesn’t mean that the show lacked dynamic energy. At choice moments, Chief Elementals rushed the stage, battling for the chance to showcase the performers in their respective domains.

Gaya’s posse excelled in hoop-diving, an act borne of Chinese acrobatic tradition. Clad in ochre bodysuits with stripes and spots, the acrobats were like ninja-cats as they dove, rolled and flipped through hoops with grace. Precise partnering showcased both the performers’ physical prowess and their ability to work as a team.

Hoop Diving. Picture credit : Daniel Desmarais / Costume credit : François Barbeau

Though Yao’s weapon of choice was the spear, his acrobatic corps preferred the bamboo poles. These poles, adorned with red decorative fabric, devoured vertical space like the flames of a fire. Acrobats kept the poles in flight by balancing the pole bases on their biceps, chins and palms; the men also launched the poles into the air and dove or flipped beneath them, always returning to upright positions in time to make the catch.

Bamboo poles. Picture credit : Daniel Desmarais / Costume credit : François Barbeau

Pas de deux – Aerial silk. Picture credit : Daniel Desmarais / Costume credit : François Barbeau

Azala’s aerial pas de deux with a male partner was a bit less flashy. This particular act was more intimate than the rest of the show; Azala chose moments to close in on her partner but their relationship never felt permanent. That didn’t make the act any less beautiful, though; standout moments in this act were a midflight near-kiss and the image of Azala, suspended upside-down in a perfect center split, carrying her partner’s entire weight with one arm.

Oceane performed traditional Indian dance vocabulary while flanked by a crew of trampoline artists. Four trampolinists performed gravity-defying feats, leaping across a gap between two trampolines and launching themselves up a 26-foot tall aluminum wall. The male trampolinists seemed to travel the furthest vertically; one even jumped onto the wall’s top and landed balanced in a handstand.

Trampoline. Picture credit : Daniel Desmarais / Costume credit : François Barbeau

Dralions. Picture credit : Daniel Desmarais/ Costume credit : François Barbeau

The Dralions also displayed incredible balance. The show’s namesake, these mythical creatures were portrayed by two performers each – one for the front legs and one for the hind legs. Dralions balanced atop large wooden balls like elephants at the circus, sometimes two occupying a single ball simultaneously. At times the Dralions chose to “rest,” but even during these moments, the characters’ simple head bobs were enough to inspire smiles in the audience.

“Dralion”’s diverse performance lineup also showcased aerial hoop, juggling, skipping ropes and Diabolo (Chinese yo-yo), and of course, Cirque’s characteristic over-the-top clowning. I won’t give away any secrets about the clowns, but I will say that I have never laughed so much during a live performance. And for that alone, “Dralion” is worth viewing.

Skipping rope. Picture credit : Daniel Desmarais / Costume credit : François Barbeau

Cirque du Soleil – “Dralion”

Director: Guy Caron

Director of Creation: Gilles Ste-Croix

Executive Director: Andrea Lodico Welshons

Wednesday, August 16 – Sunday, August 19

PNC Arena, Raleigh, NC