Friday, June 22, 2007

Acrobatics Macrocosm (The SOB Review)

Acrobatics Macrocosm (The SOB Review) - Chaoyang Theatre, Beijing, China

*** (out of ****)

What's that old joke about how filling Chinese food is?

Well, I found that consuming Chinese theatre can have a startlingly similar effect. Sure you enjoy the taste during the thoroughly entertaining performance at the time, but just wait 30 minutes and you realize you're not completely sated.

While in Beijing on the very same evening as the Tony Awards (only Beijing is exactly 12 hours ahead of New York, so the time was actually 7:15 am EDT), I wanted to take in some real Chinese theatre. However, since most of the selections from which to choose were traditional Beijing Opera, kung fu or some variation on acrobatics, I decided to go with the show I saw advertised in the English language China Daily after it was endorsed by the concierge at my hotel.

At approximately $50 per top ticket (Western prices for the mostly Western audience), I found myself close to the front row for the Chaoyang Theatre's enthralling Acrobatics Macrocosm. This was not your garden variety Cirque du Soleil-style spectacle. Instead, it was more reminiscent of watching old school Chinese acrobats on "The Ed Sullivan Show," all against a scenic backdrop with the capital's Forbidden City.

One minute, you're watching the "Lion Dance" (pictured) where four acrobats dressed in two lion suits are balancing on a giant ball that rocks to and fro on a teeter-totter.

Then there's the multitude of plate spinners who manage to keep their fine China rotating precariously even while somersaulting.

Next, you're amazed not only as a plethora of young male gymnasts are catapulting each other in a virtual human juggling act, but you're struck by how incredibly young they look (my guess is that some were no more than 10 years of age).

The finale featured the mesmerizing "Bicycle Skills" (pictured): a regular bike resplendent with -- by my count -- more than a dozen female acrobats fanned out as it circled around the stage.

And you just can't help but simply marvel at the so-grotesque-they're-glorious contortionists, who lay face down and stretch their legs over so their feet touch their heads. In perhaps their most repulsive, yet captivating displays, the four lithe females mount a tree-like apparatus with four branches, each with a phallic-looking appendage at the end. In rapid succession the four performers mount each of those appendages via only their mouths and flip their bodies backward. It's simultaneously stunning and creepy. Audibly gasping, I found my own jaw deep in my lap.

While I vigorously applauded the performers for giving it their all physically, it was hard to detect much heart in the performance on the rather joyless looking faces, particularly as many were quite literally going through the motions. But what astounding motions they were.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
New York Has Broadway, China Has Er Ren Zhuan (June 16, 2007)

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At 22 June, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, it sounds like a pretty incredible display of human agility, even if it wasn't the most filling theatrical experience. I don't remember ever seeing any Chinese acrobatic acts. I must have missed them on the Ed Sullivan Show! Interesting how young you said some of the gymnasts looked. I think that no matter how technically accomplished the action is on stage, you want to see the performers really putting their hearts into it, or at least looking like they're enjoying themselves. Nice to see some pictures, too. I think the Beijing Opera would have been fun, but probably hard to follow. So it sounds like you made a good choice and all in all, it was a memorable evening!

At 23 June, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, I had seen a variation of Beijing Opera on my 2004 trip to China while in Xi'an. I found it dazzling.

I think the "Ed Sullivan" acrobats were typically tucked between Topo Gigio and the Beatles....


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