Cirque du Ciel struck spectacle gold at the New Theatre – and it wasn’t just the energy of the Elvis-quiffed Chinese drummer keeping time.
The precision, execution and consistency of the troupe’s 30 acrobats was a marvel in itself. In a show of visual pyrotechnics, their courage and hard graft was no illusion. Some looked scarcely older than touring director Zhang Wan must have when he first started as a gymnast aged 7.
Originally conceived in China by Cirque du Soleil’s Guy Caron, ShangHi bore many of the trademarks of Caron’s ground breaking company: pace, frenetic energy, glittering costumes and virtuoso athleticism.
Although the story line was weak, and props limited by the constraints of touring, a diverse musical soundtrack, and dramatic projected backdrops (from snow-capped mountains at sunrise to rush hour on Shanghai’s streets) created a flavour of the show’s Cirque du Soleil heritage.
Drawing on elements of traditional Chinese acrobatic shows, at which Wan himself has excelled as a performer, ShangHi was a showcase of technical brilliance. Performers leapt through hoops like dolphins; they spun from aerial rings like exotic parakeets, they sprung at a furious pace between parallel Monkey Bars, climbing up so deftly, it was hard to believe that these feats did not come naturally to all human beings. Their grace and timing was almost faultless.
There was humour too: Mexican hat juggling (three hats per head) was terrific, as was a wonderful street dance where the intricate choreography between four men and boys never lost its macho footing. The power of legs alone to control a bouncing Risley drum, while the acrobats lay on their backs demonstrated amazing balance and control.
Most moving was the Sun and Moon dance, which incorporated the repertoire of classical ballet with extraordinary athletic virtuosity. As the drummer ran a hand across a set of silver pipes, the lithe female dancer balanced en pointe on her partner’s forehead.
Magic – if it hadn’t been so hard won.