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DRALION:  CIRQUE DU SOLEIL

Review by Michael Jacobson

Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  Multi-Angle Performances, Making-Of Featurette, Trailers
Length:  89 Minutes
Release Date: 

Film ***1/2

I've heard of Cirque du Soleil for years, but until I watched the DVD presentation of their last big show, Dralion, I had never seen them on stage.  I had no idea what I was missing.  This talented troupe combines dance, music, acrobatic stunts and comedy with elaborate lights, costumes and stage settings into a stage performance unlike any other.  They may call themselves a cirque, or circus, but they've far transcended the normal crudeness of what we tend to think of as a circus, elevating it from a carnival atmosphere to a high art form.

Dralion is a combination of the words ‘dragon' and ‘lion', and this show represents Cirque du Soleil's melding of their own acrobatic showmanship with Chinese traditions; a sort of east-meets-west production that brings the best of both worlds into one spectacular show.  Featuring performers from Asia and Europe, and despite language barriers and cultural differences, this team comes together to blend individual styles and abilities into a presentation that's as unified as it is diversified.

With constant music and live singing, the troupe stroll their acts out one at a time in front of a close and appreciative audience.  After establishing the lights, sounds and effects, the first performer takes the stage for her pole balancing act.  High in the air and on the tip of a vertical pole, she supports herself with one hand as she twists, turns, and molds her body like a living sculpture.  When she flips from one hand to another with seemingly no effort, all I could think of was, this little girl had to have more arm strength than Ah-nuld.

Other performances include Viktor Lee, who is by far the best juggler I've ever seen—you'll really marvel when he gets seven balls in the air at once without a miscue—a traditional Chinese ring diving act which has to be seen to be believed, platform jumpers that build a higher human tower than you could imagine, and a couple of hysterical clown teams who are as accomplished as musicians as they are comedians.  There are no animals and no ringmasters; just artists who combine movement, stuntwork and skill into a performance that's both awe inspiring and beautiful to behold.

My only complaint, which keeps this from earning a four star rating, is the occasional cheesy video effects.  When I'm marveling at the physical abilities of these performers, the last thing I want is for some ambitious editor slowing down the footage, which also invariably means we're missing another part of the act because everything is timed and choreographed tightly to music.

There is a whole lot of show packed into this hour and a half long performance, and I'm thinking now that I've seen Cirque du Soleil, I'll never be impressed by Ringling Bros. again!

Video ***

Dralion is a cornucopia of colors, from the costumes to the sets to the lighting.  It's such a feast for the eyes that I can't help wishing it had been shot on film rather than video, but there are still very few complaints.  As with most video images, there are occasional moments of unmistakable softness, and some instances of color bleeding and loss of definition in lower lit settings.  While noticeable, they hardly detract from the overall enjoyment of the program, and these are the kinds of issues brought about by the medium, not by the transfer.  I didn't notice any undue grain or shimmer, or any other telltale signs of compression.  Overall, this DVD presentation is about as good as it can be with the source material.

Audio ***

The audio is pretty good, though I couldn't really tell a nominal difference between the 2 channel and 5.1 channel surround tracks.  The subwoofer hardly comes into play despite the sometimes percussive music—most of the bass is handled by the other channels.  The rear stage was mainly used for crowd response and reverb, though occasionally, bits of the musical orchestration could be heard emanating discreetly from them.  The overall dynamic range was surprisingly limited, despite the potential given the quieter comedy performances contrasting with the more potent music.  The clarity is top notch all the way:  no noise, drop-outs or distortions.  All in all a good, if imperfect, audio presentation.

Features **1/2

The disc contains a nice making-of featurette, which takes you behind the scenes to show the performers training and rehearsing, as well as the costume, set designs, and the opening night of Dralion.  There are also four multi-angle presentations which give you a choice of three camera views for each, and trailers for this, Quidam, and Riverdance.

Summary:

Dralion is an unforgettable show by the masterful troupe Cirque du Soleil, and for those of us who didn't make it to their North American tour, we can thank Columbia Tri Star for preserving it on DVD for us.  This is a colorful, musical, spectacular presentation that the whole family can enjoy.  You'll see dance, comedy, costumes, lights, and human bodies moving in ways you never dreamed possible.