The Great Circus of China

of Li Li-ping]

Photo: Christopher Majka

The Great Circus of China is really the Wuhan Circus Troup lead by the legendary Xia Juhua, formerly a circus star herself (she reintroduced the ancient "Pagoda of Bowls" balancing act to the contemporary Chinese circus) and now a politician and member of the National People's Congress. It is a talented 160 member company that performs some of the gems of the Chinese circus tradition with skill and elan.

There was beautifully choreographed ten person eighty plate spinning routine; a skilful and entrancing display of antipody with urns, tables and rugs; a five man acrobatic routine using floor hoops that confounds the mind so extraordinary is their flexibility and timing and a great teeter-board routine complete with a somersaulting stiltwalker -- and all this in the first half! After intermission a two-man traditional synchronized balance of huge earthenware jars was a pleasure to watch as was the famed Pagoda of Bowls performed by the acclaimed Li Liping and a leaning seven-person-ten-chair leaning pyramid. There was also a sixteen person trick bicycle routine (at one point all riding on one bicycle) and a fine acrobatic/balance routine on long bamboo poles. Charming, cute and clever but relatively unspectacular was the most over-hyped member of the troupe, Gong Gong, one of only two performing Panda's in the world.

For juggling enthusiasts the displays of antipody were a delight. Watching oriental circus (and I've noticed this in Taiwanese as well as North Korean groups as well as the mainland companies) I am always struck by the skilful choreography of the performa nces, the extraordinary abilities of the performers and the grace and simplicity of the presentations. There is none of the P.T. Barnum-style hokum and bravado that for too long was the hallmark of the American circus. It is oriental charm and craft coupled with pure circus -- dazzling skill and extraordinary feats showing the skill, beauty and ability of the human body -- I can't wait to see them again!