In Cirque of perfection.
In Cirque of perfection.

Under Le Big Top

Never mind trying to decipher the plot: If you really want to understand the Cirque du Soleil, open your eyes and shut off your mind. Forget your expectations and just be amazed, because, at its best, the Cirque is the stuff of dreams -- a highbrow sports event delivered in a puff of smoke and a splash of color. All that, and an international soundtrack to boot. And Dralion, the latest Cirque production (there are several companies touring other shows in different parts of the world as we speak), is no exception: A rich melding of machine-precise Chinese acrobatics and the typical Cirque folderol, Dralion -- opening Tuesday for a six-week run next to the Pepsi Center -- is the epitome of multimedia theater, encapsulated in the clown face of a circus.

For director Guy Caron, a veteran comedian/performer who helped form the National Circus School in Montreal and then taught there, the biggest challenge in bringing Dralion to fruition was perhaps the difficult task of exposing the Chinese soul -- a commodity masked by thousands upon thousands of years of culture. Caron has been working closely for several years with the Cirque's resident company of Chinese acrobats -- technically perfect performers bound to exactitude after years of training -- and he's not certain he'll ever truly be able to break through those cultural barriers. When it comes down to it, "they are acrobats, not actors," he says. And so it goes.

It's up to the rest of the crew, a classy award-winning lot of designers and theater techs, to supply the soul, a specialty of the Cirque that literally drips from its tent top. It's produced magically, in shards of dramatic lighting, through creative sets, in the threads of symbolic costumery, dangled from trapezes or propelled across the floor, and interspersed with the upbeat athleticism of the acrobats. Trust it. The amount of energy and dollars poured into a single night's Cirque performance almost guarantees its quality. All you have to do is watch.


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