We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Cirque du Soleil is not really my cup of whimsy, but I’m going to have to stop resisting this Canadian spectacle’s Broadway-by-way-of-Vegas picturesqueness so strenuously. The first of its D.C. incarnations struck me as Cats without fur, and subsequent visits have mostly reinforced that impression: the Ice Capades without skates…a Ricky Martin concert without la vida loca…a David Copperfield extravaganza with contortionists who twist themselves into pretzels in full view rather than inside boxes as they’re being sawed in half.

Which is to say: There’s an awful lot of presentation to what Cirque does—much swirling of fabrics, flashing of lights, and blowing around of dry-ice fog. But at the center of all this theatrical tomfoolery there’s always an act or two that’s flat-out jaw-dropping, and Dralion—the current, Asia-inflected Cirque production—is no exception.

In front of a set that looks like the grille of a ’50s Buick with human bugs pressed against it by the wind, Dralion has a juggler who does indescribable things with anywhere from one to seven balls while rippling his body in a manner so liquid that he hardly seems to have bones. There’s a pint-sized contortionist who balances on one hand with her feet resting casually on her shoulders, and there’s a trio of young acrobats who do back flips while perched atop rolling beach balls as tumblers somersault through impossibly small hoops.

There’s also a troupe of 15 young girls who wear ballet slippers and balance on pointe atop glowing light bulbs with other girls standing on their shoulders and heads. I’m going to assume that the light bulbs are specially constructed…and have flat tops…and aren’t actually hot. But even given all that, the feat qualifies as impressive.

Less thrilling are the aerialists who soar gracefully overhead while dangling from oddly shaped trapezes or long bolts of fabric. For my tastes, a little of this goes a long way, and Dralion has so much of it that the evening’s second half actually drags. Fortunately, just as the sublimity of it all threatens to get too thick, the creators send out a quartet of hip clowns to mock the acts that have preceded them—an indication of self-awareness that sets Dralion apart from the spectacles it otherwise resembles.

Cats took itself way too seriously to make fun of its own devices. Dralion, being savvier, may well end up having more than nine lives.

—Bob Mondello