Cirque du Soleil, Royal Albert Hall, London

No spit and sawdust here: this is circus as son et lumiÿre
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The Independent Culture

In the olden days when they dreamed of running away to join the circus, little boys and girls envisaged nothing more strenuous than a spot of light plate spinning. Never in their wildest dreams would they have conceived of the dizzying spectacle that is Dralion.

They cannot have imagined a show encompassing 3,000 costumes, 55 performers from countries as far apart as Chile, the Ivory Coast, China, the Ukraine, the UK and Brazil, and a music and light show that would not have looked out of place at a Genesis gig circa 1977. Breathtaking is an overused word, but this is one occasion where it really is merited.

Fusing the most dynamic elements of circus and theatre, Cirque du Soleil have revolutionised the art form. They have turned it into something which is son et lumière, rather than spit and sawdust.

The transformation in the fortunes of the company has been equally dramatic. Since their foundation in 1984, they have mushroomed from a rag-tag band of Quebec street entertainers into a billion-dollar global industry, playing to nigh on 40 million people. Last year alone, they performed in front of seven million spectators. Numbers that many major multinationals would envy.

Directed by Guy Caron, their latest show, Dralion, nominally held a mythic tale about the four elements - earth, air, fire and water. But don't bother with the plot; you'd do better sitting back and soaking up the sensation.

With a giant car-radiator set that many West End shows would sell their granny for, it is a mesmerising experience. The acts are interspersed with all manner of fancy stage business - from prancing Chinese dragons, to African tribal dancing. It is easy to understand why it took two years to devise.

Several acts in last night's European premier stood out. The celeb-heavy audience gasped at the exuberant athleticism of the hoop-divers, and then, at the start of the second half, at a quartet of extravagantly dressed acrobats, suspended 40ft off the ground and slowly rotated as they were silhouetted inside a huge canvass cylinder. For me, however, the highlight was the ravishing aerial pas de deux. Draped in sumptuous blue light and matching silk, this duo were sensuality made flesh.

The one serious drawback was the trio of dinner-jacketed clowns who interrupted proceedings on no fewer than five occasions. They kept breaking the spell. Whenever they were on, one thought ran through my mind: take off the clowns.

That aside, it was a Big Night Out, very much with capital letters. Circus can be grand. It can be gorgeous. And it can be glam. Cirque du Soleil have achieved what once appeared impossible: they have sexed up the circus.

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