It’s East meets West with a circus twist in downtown Albany for the final run of “Dralion.”
Cirque du Soleil, which has sparked the imagination of millions of people in more than 40 countries, brings the elements of a traditional Chinese circus and a Western contemporary circus to life in “Dralion” for six performances Thursday, Oct. 2, through Sunday, Oct. 5, at the Times Union Center.
However, days before the acrobats, jugglers and trapeze artists arrive in Albany, Melody Wood and her crew will find their way to town with more than 1,500 costume pieces, six washing machines, two dryers and a lot of thread.
“We start preparing wardrobe, dressing rooms, washings from the previous city,” said Wood, the head of wardrobe. “On that day, we do about 36 loads of washing, send costumes out to the dry cleaner, paint the shoes, distribute the hats … There is a lot of preparation that day.”
The “Dralion” wardrobe team includes four permanent touring staff and three local wardrobe employees from each city. The wardrobe team is responsible for maintaining and repairing all the show’s costumes.
“What we take care of is everything from their heads to their toes — hats, shoes and everything in between,” Wood said. “Some looks can be made of eight or nine items.”
Once the artists arrive, Wood’s crew is busy ironing, doing costume fittings and checking every costume before putting them in the dressing room.
“We check for repairs, stains, missing buttons or beads,” she said.
Like most Cirque du Soleil shows, “Dralion” has its share of acrobatics, aerial and daring stunts. An aerial ballet captures the passion and energy of its signature element: fire. Suspended from a hoop high above the stage, the artist presents an evocative choreography in which the hoop and body become one in a dance of acrobatic precision.
Another act has six men balancing long decorative poles symbolizing fire. A traditional act of the Chinese acrobatic arts, the performers keep the poles “in flight” overhead while performing acrobatic feats on the ground.
A blend of the traditional Chinese dragon and lion dances takes on new scope in an energetic tumbling sequence where artists perform acrobatic moves while balancing on large wooden balls as the “Dralion” characters surround them with a spirited dance.
Wood said rips and tears in the costume are the nature of the show. For this reason, each costume has a duplicate piece to be used as a replacement in a pinch, though Wood said most of the costumes can be quickly repaired with a quick stitch.
“Dralion” is about a quest for harmony between humans and nature. The show’s name is derived from the dragon symbolizing the East, and the Lion symbolizing the west. Four elements take on a human form, and each element is represented by a color. The air is blue; the water is green; fire is red and the Earth is ochre. The show’s costumes are inspired by the colors.
Starting out with a cream color fabric in the paint department in Montreal, the costumes are painted and decorated with unusual materials. Horse hair, metal, window screen, styrofoam, bubble wrap, bugs and Slinkies are used to bring the costumes to life. The artists in the costume workshop worked for more than three months creating the original costumes for “Dralion.”
For Wood and her crew, it’s an ongoing process, with more than 300 pairs of shoes cleaned and painted by hand every week.
Although Wood said most people are surprised that a majority of the fabric is machine washable, it’s the water in which they are washed that makes costume upkeep challenging.
“It’s been challenging being in so many different countries. The small thing like water. I am used to the condition and feel of the water in London. Water has a different feel everywhere you go and has a different effect on the costumes,” she said.
Despite all the challenges, Wood said she wouldn’t change her job.
“I love the people, and we are able to travel and arrive at these places and still find the time to go exploring and see new things and still entertain people everyday. It’s amazing,” she said.
After 15 years performing around the world, Albany will have its final opportunity to experience Cirque du Soleil’s “Dralion” from Oct. 2 through Oct. 5. Tickets to Cirque du Soleil’s “Dralion” at the Times Union Center in Albany can be purchased on Ticketmaster.com.