Cirque du Soleil brings 'Dralion' to Tallahassee

The artists execute graceful lithe movements that emphasize their extreme felxibility and balance.

The artists execute graceful lithe movements that emphasize their extreme felxibility and balance.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Since its 1999 premiere in Montreal, the Cirque du Soleil phenomenon “Dralion” has drawn more than 7 million enchanted fans to the international troup’s big-top production.

“Dralion” is taking on a new life during its current touring run, as Cirque du Soleil’s unparallelled creative team has retrofit the production so that it may be presented in arenas throughout the United States and Canada.

Florida fans of the signature Cirque wizardry will have an opportunity to experience “Dralion” in the state’s capital city as it begins a seven-show run tonight at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center.

Drawing inspiration from Eastern philosophy and the never-ending quest for harmony between humans and nature, “Dralion” — a name derived from the production’s two emblematic creatures: the dragon and the lion — utilizes Cirque’s trademark multidisciplinary approach of acrobatics, music, artistry and story to defy the laws of nature and enchant viewers.

Fifty international acrobats, gymnasts, musicians and singers bring “Dralion” to life in an unforgettable performance that is unlike any other form of entertainment.

Redding, Calif., artist James Santos was recruited by the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil braintrust to help transform “Dralion” from a big-top production to an arena show. He serves as an artistic assistant for the production and took a break from pre-show preparations in new Orleans recently to talk with The Albany Herald.

ALBANY HERALD: Artistic assistant ... For some shows, that title’s not such a big deal. For a Cirque du Soleil show, it’s a very big deal. What are some of the specifics of your job?

JAMES SANTOS: There are just so many different details that go into a production like this. Because Cirque shows include so many multidisciplinary performances, the shows actually require more in-depth preparation than a Broadway show. And when you add in the travel, it’s even moreso. It’s important that the performance is entertaining while protecting the original vision of the show creators. (Artistic personnel) work with light, sound and technical people as well as 50 artists. It’s really pretty amazing.

AH: As an artistic assistant, do you have a part in writing/creating the show, or does your job entail more interpreting someone else’s vision?

JS: Our shows are always evolving; it’s not like there’s a script to follow. These are acrobats and gymnastics, and it’s impossible to choreograph precisely a trick or stunt. What we try to do is follow the vision of the story creators but with the clear understanding that we sometimes must adapt. We try to stay within the style of the show, but we have the freedom to make necessary changes.

AH: How long have you been with this Cirque production, and how did you land the gig?

JS: When the company made over “Dralion” to adapt it for the arena, I was brought on as part of the team. I’d been running a dance theater in California for the last seven years, and all of a sudden I felt it was time for me to move on to the next step in my life. An opportunity to join Cirque in a regional position came up, and it blossomed into this position. The interview process is extensive, but it has to be. They take the time to get to know you because they want to see how well you fit in. They want to know how well you communicate with performers and technical people from 15 different countries.

AH: You have a background in the arts: acting, theater direction, choreography. How does that background serve you in the Cirque du Soleil environment?

JS: I was a performer first, then a choral director and a teacher. I’ve learned to jump from one style to another in my career, and that’s made it an easier transition for me with Cirque. I understand the different elements involved in the show.

AH: Do you consider yourself an artist first, and isn’t that really an essential in being part of Cirque?

JS: The creative process is a very fulfilling profession. The key is to keep your brain stimulated, to watch the show and think of ways to make it better. When I stopped dancing, I did so consciously. I’m comfortable now with my place backstage. I’m at ease.

AH: Cirque has a number of different shows (19). What appeals to you about “Dralion?”

JS: This show is just an amazing creation by an amazingly talented creative team. It’s hard to pinpoint specific elements about the show that most appeal to me because I have to emerse myself in every part of the show. When you become a part of Cirque, you are part of something that’s a world of its own.

AH: Do you watch other Cirque du Soleil shows, for enjoyment or to check out possible future employment opportunities?

JS: Oh, I definitely watch the other Cirque shows when I can. You look at the styles of the various shows, at what might be fun to work on. As for concerning myself about what show I might work on, I trust the people in power to know where I best fit.

AH: Cirque’s combination of music, interpretive dance, gymnastics and storytelling is such a unique concept. Take me through the process of bringing a show like this to life.

JS: First of all, the creative team on each show is vast. The powers that be get all these creative minds working together to come up with a concept that fits the talents of the performers. There are not a lot of egoes in the creative process because the team has to be open-minded to new ideas. When they begin to work as one and their talent meshes, out comes one of these amazing, creative productions.

AH: You mentioned being in New Orleans earlier. You obviously travel a lot with Cirque. Is that a new experience for you?

JS: I’ve done theater tours where I’ve traveled before, but certainly not this extensively. We travel for 10 weeks at a time and then we’re off two weeks. It’s great, but I have to spend a lot of time away from my partner and our two children.

AH: What’s been your best road story so far during your time with “Dralion?”

JS: I quickly discovered how lucky I am to be a part of Cirque du Soleil. We travel on charter flights, so there are no long waits at the airport. We have nice accommodations, great food, all provided for us. All we have to worry about is our art and entertaining the people who come to see us.

AH: The people who have never seen a Cirque show are in for a treat. What should they expect?

JS: With “Dralion,” they can expect a very colorful show. There’s a large element of surprise with these world-class acrobats, singers and dancers ... You will be taken away to another world for three hours.

Tonight’s show, which starts at 7:30 p.m., is the first of a seven-performance run at the Tallahassee venue. Other shows are scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, with shows at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. A pair of Sunday performances will be held at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Tickets, which range from $35 to $90, are available at the Civic Center box office at 505 W. Pensacola St. or at all Ticketmaster outlets.