There was a time when going the cinema or theatre used to be the highlight of the week. Then came along the concept of renting out videos and DVDs. Now, with endless cable TV channels and a plethora of downloading websites, the world is our oyster. With everything a few clicks away, we can now watch whatever, whenever and wherever.
The advancement in technology has heightened human intellect in a manner that we can no longer appreciate traditional forms of entertainment unless there is a 'wow' factor attached to it. Since the circus exemplifies live entertainment performed by ordinary people who are capable of extraordinary feats, it continues to be an enchanting experience However, due to shorter attention spans, busier lives and a variety of entertainment options, the circus has had to re-invent itself.
Today, circus is the modern form of theatre. I witnessed a glimpse of this in a recent performance by Cirque du Soleil, the avant-garde travelling circus founded in Canada. Their show Dralion was received well by the audience in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It is a dynamic performance that transcends the boundaries of our imagination. The mix of awe-inspiring Chinese acrobatics, theatrical performances and creative costumes makes it a wonderful feast for the senses.
Dralion refers to a mythical creature that is part dragon and part lion. This serves as an embodiment of the show's theme: the blend of Eastern and Western cultures. Dralion is a celebration of life and the four elements that maintain the natural order: air, water, fire and earth. These elements take on a human form during the show and are represented by their own evocative colour: air is blue; water is green; fire is red; earth is ochre. In the world of Dralion there is an insatiable quest for harmony between humans and nature.
The breathtaking futuristic stage is an immense technological sculpture where each contraption serves as an accessory to the performers throughout the show. One of these components is an aluminium structure comprising three rings, each of which has a specific function. One ring serves as an acrobatic apparatus, another as a catwalk, while the third is used for technical purposes and houses an enormous lantern. The backdrop is a metal wall with an orchestra pit.
The music of Dralion enhances our experience and contributes to the mood of the show. The vocalists sing in an invented language which only they can decipher. This creates an element of mystery and heightens the dramatic moments in the show.
Dralion creates an enchanting ambiance where trapeze performers defy gravity, nimble jugglers defy logic and acrobats defy expectations. In fact, they make some of the remarkable acts look so easy that the one or two missed feats bring the audience back to the reality of how dangerous their movements are. The multi-talented performers present a variety of high-calibre acts including:
- Trampoline: Fearless aerialists bounce off trampolines using the futuristic wall backdrop both as a diving board and landing pad. The dizzying speed of multiple acrobats and relatively narrow trampolines cause a few cringes along the way.
- Aerial Hoop: This exotic aerial ballet is a sensual dance between a woman and her hoop. Suspended from a hoop high above the stage, the artist dances in, around and balanced upon this hoop as it swoops and twirls through the air.
- Aerial Ballet: This is performed by a couple who fly high over the stage wrapped in and along a long ribbon of blue cloth. Within the cloth, they perform intricate, death-defying choreography with strength and artistic grace. The chemistry between the couple is electrifying.
- Hoop Diving: A group of artists dive and throw themselves like arrows through small wooden hoops. The hoops are stacked on top of each other; some are stationary while others rotate. This evokes more than a few gasps.
- Skipping Ropes: The skipping rope takes on a new dimension as the acrobats form human pyramids and perform synchronous flips through multiple twirling ropes. (Photo: Zimbio Pictures)
Cirque du Soleil does a different style of circus which is a mix of dance, theater, mime and acrobatics. I found Dralion to be a spectacular display of colour, choreography and drama that leaves you mesmerized for a few days. Today, people seem to be more fascinated by modern technology and so the future of this art form seems quite uncertain. The circus is more likely to survive if it remains loyal to its roots and embraces futuristic changes.