Cirque du Soleil’s Multiculti Universe (photo gallery)
Published: January 29, 2014 (Issue # 1795)
Cirque du Soleil is back in St. Petersburg with an arena show titled “Dralion.” Opening on Jan. 22, the extravagant show has proven popular with local audiences, easily filling the Ice Palace arena, which has become the troupe’s home when visiting the city.
The title of the show is a portmanteau of the two emblematic creatures whose images run throughout the performance: The dragon, symbolizing the East, and the lion, symbolizing the West. A slightly promiscuous blend of influences, “Dralion” combines the 3,000-year old tradition of Chinese acrobatic arts with the multidisciplinary approach of Cirque du Soleil but nonetheless offers enough thematically-linked elements to bring the various influences together.
“When ‘Dralion’ was created almost 15 years ago, Cirque du Soleil had wanted to find a way of combining ancient Chinese circus traditions with their contemporary approach and ‘Dralion’ was the result of that,” Mark Shaub, the show’s artistic director, told the St. Petersburg Times. “When you see the entire show there are a lot of other acts — the clowns are definitely not Chinese — so it’s a real melding of the different influences.”
As with almost all Cirque productions, the evening begins long before most of the audience have found their seats with a trio of roving clowns causing general mayhem, drawing audience members into the world of the performers.
The show proper starts when a character known as Little Buddha, who acts as a timekeeper, sets the first act in motion.
Drawing inspiration from Eastern philosophy and the quest for harmony between man and nature, “Dralion” gives human form to the four elements — Air, Water, Fire and Earth — each of which are identified with a different part of the globe. Each act is overseen by one of the “elements” whose origin is revealed through costume and music.
“The music is really from all over the world. There are influences of Arabic music, Spanish music – we do a lot of world music blends. Certainly there is a big element of Asia and particularly Chinese traditions, but it really blends together,” said Shaub.
Directed by Guy Caron, who was Cirque du Soleil’s first artistic director when the company was created in 1984, the show has been seen by more than 7 million people worldwide since it premiered in 1999. The St. Petersburg run is the Russian premiere of the show, which will be followed by performances in Chelyabinsk, Kazan and Moscow before heading to Minsk.
The show features 50 international acrobats, gymnasts, musicians and singers, several of whom are Russian, including a St. Petersburg native.
While parts of the “Dralion” mythology feel somewhat dated, it is nonetheless a spectacular display of prowess on the part of the performers – one that is often as breathtaking in the quieter moments as it is during the big production numbers. With the Russian love and knowledge of circus traditions, Cirque seems to have managed to create quite a few converts to its worldview.
Daily performances of ‘Dralion’ run through Feb. 2, with matinees on the weekend, at the Ice Palace, 1a Prospekt Pyatiletok. M. Prospekt Bolshevikov. Tel. 718 6620.