Launching the New Year at the Royal Albert Hall with Cirque Du Soleil has become something of an institution in recent years, their breathtaking Saltimbanco once again enrapturing audiences in 2003.
Dralion- here receiving its European premiere- is a show billed as blending Eastern and Western tradition, hence the title which fuses the Dragon of the East and Lion of the West. Despite the sumptuous costumes on display and the physical ingenuity of its performers which guarantees a spectacular show every time, Dralion is a subtler, less powerful piece than its predecessors; elegant certainly, but less satisfying in substance.
Typically, a Cirque show encompasses balletic grace and breathtaking acrobatics all set to a live soundtrack that defies easy categorisation. A haunting counter-tenor and soprano provide the music on this occasion and their vocal harmony is one of the stronger aspects of the show, lending a degree of coherence lacking visually. A group of Chinese acrobats perform fluid, deceptively simple feats that culminate in the superb title sequence that sees three Chinese dragons balancing on a ball whilst manoeuvring a plank. Elsewhere there's an aerial duet, a strikingly sinewy juggler and many others who seem to defy the idea of bodily limitation.
It's certainly striking, more impressive for those being introduced to Cirque for the first time. The sense of magic, of sheer joie de vivre though is missing and whilst there's still much to admire, without this extra ingredient it entertains without ever capturing both heart and mind.