You’ve been to the Rose Garden, but you’ve probably never seen it like this.
The space is immense and dark, with steam wafting mysteriously from the edges of a round platform. A gauzy-tent hangs in the background, illuminated like an alien votive. Three clowns, dressed in slipshod tuxedos, dart to and fro, bellowing out in Italian tongues as gentle Chinese flutes play in the background. The juxtaposition is whimsical, bordering on otherworldly.
This is Dralion, Cirque du Soleil’s surreal exploration of East-meets-West acrobatics. The show’s title is a portmanteau of “dragon,” representing the East, and “lion,” representing the West. Between the dueling directions, the clowns’ Italian bravado and the voiceovers’ French instructions, the show is transporting: as an audience member, it's hard to find footing in anything familiar, and so you spend two-and-a-half hours tossed in the waves of Cirque du Soleil’s universe of soaring acrobatics and vaudevillian clowns.Visually, the performance is stunning. The colors are hyper-saturated: no pastels here. The brilliant hues reinforce the psychedelic, bold stunts. For Cirque du Soleil’s first Portland performance in an area as immense as the Rose Garden, the artistic direction tackles the space with finesse, playing well with height and levels. Performers dance and flip on the stage, as others hang high above, suspended from a circling metal disc. Others roll low on the stage, or pop out from under the platform, exposing only their heads. No matter where you look, there’s always something to see, so although the space is large, it never feels empty.
The stunts are nothing if not artistically and athletically sophisticated. You won’t find performers juggling knives or leaping through rings of fire; it doesn’t have to be that over the top. Instead, the most beautiful moments are anchored in simplicity: a lone acrobat suspended on a ring, or two acrobats performing a stunning pas de deux high in the air, wrapped only in blue silk. Cirque du Soleil’s strength lies in the expertise of its performers; they perform daring exploits with such ease that you barely see a muscle strain, achieving the improbable as easily as they might cross the street.
The production isn’t flawless; at times, the show dips into the excessive, with flashing lights and blasting music that cheapen the athletic beauty of the stunts. At other times, the show’s momentum pulls back too much: too much time with the clowns marching around the stage, too much time for stunts to get their wheels turning. The stunts themselves are so powerful that it’s a shame to feel their energy dissipate, if even for a moment.
Nonetheless, Dralion allows for a generally stunning escape from reality. Performance, in its truest form, creates a singular experience for its audience, and in this sense, Dralion is successful: You’ll feel something you’ve never felt before, and something you’ll be hard-pressed to recreate elsewhere.