When Cirque du Soleil's "Dralion" arrives at Germain Arena next week, it will be way too big to sneak in. "Dralion" (pronounced "Drah-lee-on" ) boasts an international cast of 52 acrobats, gymnasts, musicians, singers and comedic characters. The costumes alone require 1½ trailers. There will be seven performances of the show, which is at the arena from Wednesday, Aug. 1, to Sunday, Aug. 5.Ancient Chinese circus traditions are at the heart of "Dralion," which premiered in 1999 and has played to more than 8 million spectators. "Dralion" represents the art of merging of East and West, pulling from the dragon, which stems from the East and the lion, descended from the West.
The background on the concept of "Dralion" is that the four elements — air, water, fire and earth — have each come alive in human form. Blue represents air, while green embodies water. Red illustrates fire while Earth is portrayed by ochre, a golden-toned color found throughout nature. "Dralion" is all about the blending and balance between man and nature, which meshes well with a show that highlights precarious acrobatic skills and extreme flexibility.
Acrobat Luo Shaohua joined the show when Cirque du Soleil was looking for artists from China. For him, performing with an international cast as an acrobat has been his dream since boyhood. Shaohua lists hoop diving as his favorite part of the show.
" 'Dralion' shows the energy and cooperation it takes for us to perform," he said. "The music is very active and makes the audience want to dance with us, so I really enjoy that."
For many artists like Shaohua, performing in "Dralion" and other Cirque du Soleil shows is the pinnacle of longstanding careers and training. Trampo-wall artist Yakov Rakitski has been working on the trampoline since he was 7 years old. In 2008, his team took second place at the Synchro Trampoline World Championships. After Rakitski sent his video to Cirque du Soleil and training, he won a part in "Dralion."
"I perform trampo-wall act as one of the fire characters," Rakitski said. "In the trampo-wall act, we bounce off trampolines using the backdrop as a diving board and landing pad."
Rakitski says touring with "Dralion"' helped him learn English — the trampoline team is made up of six people from five countries.
For Alex Reis, a musician in the show, there really is never a dull moment. His instrument is the drum set, which he said he plays throughout the entire performance.
Reis was also a fan of the show before he joined the company and had worked with artists and musical groups across South America for more than three decades. A Cirque du Soleil talent recruiter in Brazil tapped Reis in 2010, and he has been with the show ever since, after he passed a battery of rigorous requirements and testing.
"The music is very intense and here I can highlight 'Hibana,' 'Hoop Diving' and 'Medusa' where the drums are very present," says Reis, who says being part of "Dralion's" storied cast is an enriching life experience.
"We live with each other in this culturally diverse atmosphere, exchanging information through many different languages — our planet is increasingly globalized and I believe that Cirque du Soleil is a true reflection of that," he said.
Part of what makes any Cirque du Soleil show so visually stunning is the costuming. "Dralion" is no exception. Melody Wood, "Dralion" head of wardrobe, said it all starts with the imagination of the designer, who works with the director to create an overall look of the show.
"It is then down to the costume production team to make the designers' paper designs come to life," said Wood, who trained as a designer. "In Montreal, at Cirque du Soleil headquarters, there is a huge team of costume construction specialists and fabric specialists that are able to work with the designer, showing them the latest fabrics and technics they are able to include in their designs."
Costumes that allow artists to have the freedom they need to perform begin with precise measurements, which can take nearly two hours.
"They then get a 3-D cast made of the head, which used to be a much longer process, but as always Cirque keeps up with the latest technology," Wood said. "This process is now done with a 3-D scanning machine resulting in a 3-D computer image, which is used to create a costume made to measure for an artist, enabling them to have movability and flexibility."
New artists spend a lot of time in Montreal at the Cirque du Soleil headquarters training and having costume fittings. Costumers work with artists to ensure the garb fits, particularly on the inside, and they may add padding or perhaps a pocket in which the artists can store a prop. Each artist can have two to nine complete looks and each costume can have several pieces, including headdress, shirt, trousers, belt, boots, socks and wristbands.
"We also carry a complete backup of every costume you see onstage in wardrobe, just in case something should happen onstage — we are able to replace the item quickly so the show is not affected in any way," says Wood. "Costumes can last anywhere from three months to five years, depending on wear and tear."
If you go
Cirque du Soleil’s “Dralion”
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1-3; 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 4 and 1 and 5 p.m. Aug. 5
Where: Germain Arena, 11000 Everblades Parkway, Estero
Tickets/Information: 800-745-3000 or www.germainarena.com