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The New Shanghai Circus supercharges the time-honoured tradition of Chinese Circus with unsurpassed athleticism and spectacular flair.
This acclaimed troupe defies gravity and executes breathtaking feats as it stretches the limit of human ability: agile tumblers dive through an ever-increasing number of hoops; nimble contortionists twist themselves in unimaginable positions with perfect grace, expert archers from Mongolia fire arrows with their feet!
With exotic scenery and distinctive music, the New Shanghai Circus celebrates more than two thousand years of Chinese circus.
It was once again a great pleasure to be in the Regent Theatre in Palmerston North for another performance. It is always proving itself to be a great venue for such a wide variety of shows, I am not at all surprised at the consistantly high quality of performances it is attracting.
As the lights dimmed and the music rose up to fill the auditorium, I was anticipating a show unlike any I had seen before... perhaps that was it's downfall. The opening act was 6 dancers, who wove around the stage in a well choreographed pattern, but did very little to impress me. I thought I was there to see a circus of acrobats. So it was with some trepidation that I watched the dancers leave and a pair of chinese dogs with a trainer appear on stage. They danced, they played with a ball (briefly) and did a lot of rolling around (yawn). With a few moments of canine-behaviour humour as the highlight, I was seriously wondering what I was doing here.
The next act, two young ladies and a seat of some variety... which soon revealed itself to be a foot-juggling act that showed some promise at last. Nearly 20 minutes after the first curtain raised, and I was finally impressed. This young lady displayed excellent timing and dexterity, with an astounding grasp of spacial awareness... she knew where that jug was every moment without fail, and knew how to put it where it needed to be next. And when the other young lady joined in, and they started spinning circular mats, things got seriously funky. At one point, one of them was balanced on the feet of the other, and they were both so loaded up with spinning mats it looked like a stylised tree, with 8 mats spinning between them.
Then came the "Mongolian Archers" which sounded good, but again didn't really live up to the hype. With a leading line of "We've been doing this for 2,500 years, practice makes perfect" I would have to agree with one overheard comment... "At this rate, it'll take them another 2,500 years to get it right." With many missed shots, ever the performers were clearly annoyed at their lack of smoothness.
Next came someting off the beaten track, as far as we european communities would go... yo-yo's! But these are chinese yo-yo's, which look like two small wooden soupbowl stuck together at the base, giving an almost hourglass look. And instead of a string wrapped around the join, the string had a stick attached to each end, which the performers held, leaving the yo-yo itself free to leave the string. This allowed for many interesting trick, such as juggling, high-throws, and swapping between the performers. It was impressive watching one very accomplished performer juggling two yo-yo's at once. Some too-close-catches added to the dramatic tension, and gave this scene some added spice.
This was followed by number of otherwise uninspired acts hardly worthy of note... so I won't waste any time on them. Somewhere in amongst them was a well-needed 15 minute break. 2 cans of Coke later, I was awake again and ready to face more.
Argh! More dancers... but then entering from the wings came 5 unicyclists. 6 feet above the stage sat 5 ladies with strange hats. The hats, it was soon revealed, were actually stacks of bowls, which they proceeded to place upon their feet one at a time and flick them up to sit upon their heads, in a growing stack. One at a time, then 2, then 4 at once! These ladies had some great skills with bowls, despite some slip-ups... but hey, this one was already a tough act, so the few slips were forgivable. And despite that pauses in the routine, the ladies stuck with the tricks until they got them right. Took a bit of the sparkle off, but hey, I was expecting that by now.
Some plate-spinning (9 performers, 8 plates each, except one young flower who could only keep 6 aloft), a cute act with two short 'wrestlers', which was in fact a single performer with an interesting costume, some more cultural dancing to further slow the pace, and then the strongman act common to all circus shows.
Two young lads bring in a pole-sword made entirely of steel and all-too-heavy. The strongman picks it up, and them proceeds to throw it around as though it was pine and cardboard. Very stunning, but nothing new. So, out come the Mongolian Bows, each requiring 120 pouns of pull to draw it into firing position. 4 'strong men' from the audience volunteered to go onstage and test this claim, and it was no boast. Even sitting 15 feet from the stage I could see the strain one buff bloke had to get it half-drawn. So when it was drawn with ease by the performer, I was suitably impressed with his prowess. And then I had my socks removed when he pulled two bows at once, then 4, then another 2 making 6 at once! The most impressive moment... he walked off-stage without help, I wouldn't be able to do that after such an effort.
Nearing the end of the show, I am wondering what next. A moody scene with 6 girls dancing with candles in each hand, to the dulcet tones of Enigma. Very atmospheric indeed, my persona highlight of the entire show actually. If nothing else, this one scene had me glad to be there. At the end, two ladies so wound around each other, with so many candles, you could have used them for a theme-night chandelier.
The penultimate act, the famous stacked-ring acrobats. A series of stacked hoops and young men leaping, rolling, jumping or tumbling through them in a display of consumate acrobatic skill. This was another highly impressive scene, well worth seeing. By the time they were defying gravity through a hoop stacked a good 6 feet off the ground, the run-ups were starting, and ending, well off stage. They entered from the left at a full run, bounce, spin, leap, through the hoop, hit the mat and keep rolling out of sight. What does THAT tell you about the speeds required?!
Lastly, a bicycle balancing act. After a series of short 2-person bits, the finale, 10 on a bike going round the stage. This was perhaps the single best illustration of their balancing skills from the entire show. Quite good indeed, but hardly a stunning climax to end it.
Despite a great soundtrack, amazing backdrops and costumes, and all from a cast of only 16... I am quite surprised they could justify a ticket price of up to $55.00. Overall, sorry, not the greatest show I have seen, and the lead-up hype is a bit over the top for what you end up getting. By no means the worst around, but not all it's cracked up to be.
A big "Hello!" to the lady who took seat H14 after the intermission. Hope you still enjoyed the show. :)
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