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‘Dralion’ roars in arena setting

The four elements — water earth fire air — take human forms Cirque du Soleil’s “Dralion.”| Phoby Daniel Desmarais ©2010

The four elements — water, earth, fire and air — take on human forms in Cirque du Soleil’s “Dralion.”| Photo by Daniel Desmarais ©2010 Cirque du Soleil

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Cirque du
Soleil —

♦ Through June 24, Allstate Arena, 6920 Mannheim Rd., Rosemont

♦ June 27-July 1, United Center, 1901 W. Madison

♦ Tickets, $35-$145

♦ (800) 745-3000;

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East meets West in Cirque du Soleil’s “Dralion,” a show that combines ancient Chinese circus traditions with the company’s avant-garde style. The name is a blending of dragon, which represents the East, and lion, representing the West. And this time, the dragon will step foot into the Allstate Arena for shows through June 24, instead of the tradition big top “chapiteau” of tours gone by. (The show then moves to the United Center for performances June 27-July 1).

“This show has a lot of ‘wow,’ ” said artistic director Sean McKeown, who joined Cirque du Soleil in 2001 and has been traveling with “Dralion” since 2010. “There’s a lot of color and a lot of amazing acrobatics in this show.”

The ancient Chinese traditions include “an incredible contortion act that has some amazing original music set to it that was composed by our composer, Violaine Corradi,” McKeown reported. “We have some other more contemporary acts as well in the show that come from the Chinese circus tradition. There’s a beautiful balancing act where our Chinese ladies are doing incredible pyramids and all kinds of crazy things.”

The storyline revolves around the four elements, which are given human form and distinctive colors: air (blue), water (green), fire (red) and earth (ochre).

“There are about 14 different nationalities onstage,” McKeown said. “What’s interesting in the context of the show, all of these traditions come together and sit side-by-side very well.”

One thrilling portion of the show is the trampoline act. “We have people jumping from 25 feet in the air onto trampolines below,” McKeown said.

One of those artists is Hiroi Tokuma from Atsugi, Japan. Tokuma, who began working on the trampoline at age 5, came to the United Kingdom when she was 16 for further training. In order to stay in the U.K., she had to be a full-time student. So, from 1994-2007, she managed to acquire four degrees: in sports science, international trade, information systems and communications. At the same time, she represented Japan as a trampolinist on the country’s national team. Tokuma joined Cirque du Soleil in 2008.

“It makes me happy,” she said about performing with the company. She particularly enjoys the teamwork.

“Dralion” premiered in 1999 in Montreal as a Big Top show but has been transformed to fit into arenas. That change is “part of the evolution of the show,” McKeown said. “We run out of places we can go with the Big Top.”

Setup and breakdown time is also considerably faster with arena staging. “We can get into an arena in eight hours and we can get out in about three,” he said. By comparison, it takes about a week to set up a Big Top show and three days to disassemble it.

The show is always on the move but that doesn’t bother McKeown who began his professional life as an actor, singer and dancer, then worked in business administration for a decade before running away with the Cirque.

“It’s having that sense of family even though you’re far from home,” McKeown said. “And the fact that what we get to do is entertain. That’s a gift that we’re able to work in an industry where we bring joy and pleasure.”

Myrna Petlicki is a local free-lance writer.

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