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The cirque comes to town

Courtesy photo
No lions, tigers or bears, but plenty of acrobats, jugglers and daredevils, who work to create one of the most celebrated spectacles in the world.
Chris Dorst
Cirque du Soleil performer Jonathan Morin practices his 'kala' act, leaping from a crossed wheel, during rehearsals for "Dralion" at the Civic Center Wednesday.
Review: 'Dralion' dazzles, delights WANT TO GO?Cirque du Soleil presents "Dralion."WHERE: Charleston Civic CenterWHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday.TICKETS: From $30 to $145INFO: 800-745-3000 or CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One thing about Cirque du Soleil's "Dralion" coming to the Civic Center this week, PETA won't be out front of the mall staging a protest. They won't be handing out leaflets complaining about the circus's treatment of the animals.Dralion company manager Michael Veillieux laughed and said they were very lucky."When I became company manager, I used to joke that we don't have animals. Our animals are our artists." He added, "In that sense, we're very lucky. We don't have to deal with any of that."At long last, the Canadian reinvention of the traditional circus featuring no animals but dozens of acrobats, clowns, contortionists, jugglers and aerial acts, comes to West Virginia.Cirque du Soleil has been around for decades. Founded in 1984 by Guy Laliberte and Gilles Ste-Croix, a couple of street performers, in French speaking Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec, the show has grown from humble beginnings to a worldwide enterprise with several full-scale touring shows, a couple of theater shows and two lounges in Las Vegas. This contemporary circus or cirque is a huge operation with each of the touring shows often employing more than 100 people.Veillieux said "Dralion," the show in West Virginia, is a blending of contemporary western-style acrobatics with Asian influences.He said, "Our show is East meets West. It's the dragon and the lion --together."But what to expect?
"It's a show where there's some high levels of acrobatics, but still quite a bit of clowning around. It's very funny."A few years ago, it might have been unthinkable that a show like "Dralion" would come to a city the size of Charleston. For years, like Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, Cirque du Soleil performed under a big top tent, but Veillieux explained that about five years ago the company began adapting some of their shows to arenas."Once the company realized it was financially viable, we started transferring from the big top to arenas."The first show to make the jump was "Saltimbanco," the cirque's oldest touring show, which first hit the road in 1992.According to its website, there are 11 different Cirque du Soleil shows touring the world and nine other shows installed at locations including Las Vegas and Walt Disney World Resort. That's hundreds of acrobats, jugglers, clowns, roller skaters and trapeze artists. 
Veillieux said they get their performers from everywhere."Running away to join the circus, that dream still exists," he said. "We've recruited many, many people who say that in interviews. A lot of our performers saw our show as kids."But a fair number of them come from the sports world, many of them gymnasts."We are a second career for them," Veillieux said. "They know their acrobatics, but we will teach them artistic aspects."However, the lifestyle is not for everyone."Drallion" spends 44 weeks on the road each year, and Veillieux said the show runs until it closes, which can be a very long time."Saltimbanco, our first show, is just now going to close," he said. "And that's amazing."For the right kind of person, life with the cirque is wonderful. Veillieux said he loves it."I have the best job in the world. I watch a show at least once per week and go watch rehearsals. I like seeing them work on a new trick or a new performance, then watch how it develops in the act."There is really nothing else like it, except maybe something like Ringling Brothers or another circus, which Veillieux didn't really see so much as competitors, but as just friendly members of the same community of performers."We maintain good relations with them," he said. "We often do ticket swaps with them when they're in [the same] town with us. We'll go to see them and they'll come to see us. We will visit them backstage and they'll come to visit us."Reach Bill Lynch at or 304-348-5195.
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