Watching the National Acrobats of the People’s Republic of China is awe-inspiring, thrilling and unnerving. Acrobats fly through the air; a ballerina stands on pointe, her tiny foot balancing all of her weight on the palm of her partner; 12 women hang off one moving bicycle, arms outstretched.
As the performers move through a series of dizzying acts of physical virtuosity, the audience gasps, groans, and covers their eyes. Part of the fun of the show is listening to the very visceral reactions of the rapt audience.
This troupe well represents the 3,000-year acrobat tradition in China. The show opened with a fan dance set against a back drop of space with stars and planets; this was perhaps the least successful part of the show simply because it lacked the tension of the other acts. Next a tiny ballerina danced along the arms, shoulders and hands of her partner.
Buffoons offered comic relief in small doses, once calling an audience member to the stage to act as the model around whom knives fly and once bumbling through a version of “Swan Lake.” In a particularly notable act, women spun plates atop long sticks while dancing, tumbling, and climbing onto the shoulders of other acrobats. In another, men used long ropes with weighted ends which they threw in the air while tumbling. On their backs, the men spun the rope back into the air with their feet. A contortionist moved into impossible shapes to a chorus of gasps and groans from the audience and women tossed cups on lengths of rope while spinning, tumbling and dancing. Tumblers leapt through a series of hoops reaching 10 and a half feet, and a man balanced atop
a ladder while it swayed dramatically from side to side.
Act after act stunned. Costumes were bright, sparkly and colorful, and the performers moved with almost impossible grace. There were the occasional misses, a fallen set of plates, a missed lift, but these small errors almost added to the show, reminding audience members of the absolute precision of these tricks and the danger inherent in performing them.
During intermission, children in the audience attempted to pull their legs into the contortionist’s impossible positions and others marveled over the sheer physical prowess of the performers. The enthusiastic standing ovation at the end attests to the show’s audience pleasing powers. Hopefully, this inaugural tour will be the beginning of an enduring relationship between this company and the United States.
Camille-Yvette Welsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.