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Special-effects-free creativity

Cirque's unpretentious "Dralion" offers one visual gravity-defying stunner after another.

During Cirque du Soleil's


, a gorgeous spectacle of acrobatic accomplishments, it's tough not to let one's mind wander toward the


debacle unfolding on Broadway. That's partly because


's first act includes a mechanical spider that scuttles center stage and disgorges a juggler, but also because director Julie Taymor retained Cirque vet Jaque Paquin as Spidey's rigging designer.

These artists also move like superheroes, clad in François Barbeau's fantastic, iridescent costumes, flowing or skintight, depending on the demands of their hurtling, hanging, or leaping acts. They swing from the ceiling in a graceful aerial silk pas de deux, jump off ledges onto trampolines, then scale back up the walls of Stéphane Roy's set, a Forbidden City-style edifice that helps evoke the Eastern half of Dralion's East/West union.

Like other Cirque du Soleil shows, this one has, well, not a plot, but certainly some visual themes. Four dancers in garb evocative of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and whatever's blue (I guess the West) represent four elements - earth, air, fire, and water. But there's no need to analyze them, really, unless that's your thing. In some of Cirque's other productions, circus and theater are uneasy bedfellows, fidelity to a concept weighing down all that gravity-defying excitement. But Dralion, a 1999 show - and the company's first to come to Philadelphia and pitch its tent on Broad Street - is light on pretensions and eager to deliver one visual stunner after another. The production, symbolism and all, is knockouts all the way through - thankfully, the good kind - and all set to music ranging from driving percussion to trumpet fanfare to operatic vocals tuned more for a castrato then a tenor.

The show loses some intimacy by pulling up its stakes and decamping for the arena venue of Temple University's Liacouras Center; after all, there's no small magic in huddling under the big top in such close proximity to all that otherworldly leaping, balancing, singing, orchestration, and clowning (by the way, the Dralion clown trio's routines surprise and are surprisingly untedious).

But judging by my adolescent companion's continual gape-mouthed reactions, it's clear that even if Dralion is too long to go viral, requires no special equipment to appear in 3-D, and relies on its own homemade mythologies rather than a proven and instantly recognizable comic-book franchise, old-fashioned, special-effects-free creativity can still wow and transport just the way it always has, and, it is hoped, always will.


Presented by Cirque du Soleil through Jan. 2 at the Liacouras Center, 1776 N. Broad St. Tickets: $36 to $99.

Information: 1-800-298-4200 or