Cirque Chinois stuns audience with incredible feats of human agility

Hansook Oh

Watching the National Circus of the People’s Republic of China almost made up for not watching the summer Olympics.

The traveling group of Chinese acrobats and dancers gave a performance filled with technical precision, visually tantalizing choreography and costume design and gravity-defying stunts that kept my gut churning with nervousness and excitement throughout the show.

The circus returned after their first debut at the Valley Performing Arts Center last year, where they performed as the National Acrobats of the People’s Republic of China. This year’s show, Cirque Chinois (French for Chinese circus), included much of the same, internationally respected acts such as the “Great Teeterboard,” “Grand Flying Trapeze” and “Group Contortion.”

The atmosphere was elegant, but the music and exotic costumery evoked a sense of ominous mystery. I was full of curiosity and anticipation. The show opened with what seemed to be a romantic dance between a male and female performer; a synchronized and seamless frolick held by ropes in the air. Dressed in jewel tones and gentle lighting, the two dancers seemed to be a prince and a princess, dancing above their kingdom. Maybe the circus pivoted around these characters and their story, I thought to myself by the end of their dance.

However, my assumption proved wrong, since each act of the show didn’t seem to have much to do with the previous. Rather than telling an epic tale, Cirque Chinois was more of a collection of intriguing acts; men flying through stacks of hoops, women balancing sets of china while balancing other women, and martial-arts inspired dances and stunts which struck awe and fear into the audience.

Despite the wonder, at times I was thrown back into reality because of sudden changes in the music. Better transitions and surround sound could have made the performance more entrancing. I did not get the total feeling of being transported to a magical, far-off land, but perhaps just in a half-asleep dream disturbed by moments of reality.