Cirque Shanghai: Warriors
At Navy Pier 2014
Chicago– It must finally be summer in Chicago because the Cirque Shanghai has taken up its annual residence at Navy Pier. That means locals and tourists can enjoy about 75 minutes of uninterrupted high quality circus performances, topped for the second consecutive summer by a remarkable young man named Wang Quan.
As usual, Cirque Shanghai is a lean show, no braying ringmaster, no animal acts, no blasting circus orchestra, no clowns—just one high quality performer after another doing their thing. There is no dialogue, and no storyline. The only vocal sounds are the yowls and shouts and grunts that punctuate some of the more physical ensemble acts.
Along with the circus acts, the show features massed exhibitions from “the Chinese Kung Fu and Wu Shu masters.” I’d wager that 98% of the audience entering the Navy Pier amphitheater will have no knowledge of Kung Fu or Wu Shu martial arts, but on the evidence of the Cirque Shanghai presentation both demand a lot of athletic movement with the warriors brandishing swords, staffs, and bull whips with impressive athleticism and precision. Even without program notes, the viewers can enjoy the choreography on its own considerable merits.
And now for Wang Quan. Until the young man appears late in the show there is no attempt at humor in “Warriors.” There is much grace and strength and daring in the acts but no laughs. Then comes the enthusiastic young Wang Quan, all smiles and all charisma and eager to milk the crowd for applause. Wang Quan performs his entire act balancing himself on a board atop a large hollow tube. Just staying upright on the board as the tube rolls precariously is a considerable achievement, but this performer has bigger fish to fry.
Photo Credit: Paul Natkin
Wang Quan has an almost supernatural facility for balancing himself on the board and flipping small bowls from the plank onto his head, with the assistance of a helper recruited from the audience. He catches bowl after bowl, smiling from ear to ear, until the crockery is piled on his head about six deep. This is his second visit to Navy Pier with the Cirque and I haven’t seen him miss a bowl yet. The man’s dexterity and timing are astonishing. The mix of his skills and his ingratiating personality blend into one of the great circus acts I’ve ever seen, and that covers scores of Cirque du Soleil and Ringling Brothers shows.
The remainder of the production has some fresh acts as well as some old favorites. Back again is the Imperial Thunder troupe of motorcycle riders who spin inside a steel meshed globe, first one, then two, then three, then four. and finally five cyclists, all traveling at high speed and missing each other by millimeters. The Wheel of Destiny is back as a top thrill act of the production. Two young men operate on a rotating pendulum with a metal cage at each end. As the pendulum picks up speed, the men scramble all over the contraption, skipping rope and wearing blindfolds and in general putting life and limb on the line (they wear no safety cables). For viewers who like to shriek at a dangerous act, this one’s for you.
Photo Credit: Paul Natkin
Most of the acts are within the circus tradition—hoop diving, acrobats sinuously maneuvering from silks high above the stage, hand balancing, stunts while hanging from swinging poles, teeterboards, and two sets of jugglers. A group of young women balance long sticks from shorter sticks held in their mouths, going through all kinds of complicated body movements with nary a stick toppling. Another group of females, or maybe it was the same one, toss long ropes with weighted ends into eye-catching rhythmic patterns. New or familiar, every act was executed with precision and flare.
The production values are limited to some spotlights and lots of costume changes that try to evoke a historical Chinese look. The basic set suggests a traditional Chinese background and the sound track is a mix of Western orchestral melodies and faux-Chinese music. The costumes are colorful, though some of the female tights were a little baggy. But a Cirque Shanghai doesn’t sell spectacle, it offers a continuous flow of dozens of young people who represent the Chinese circus tradition with distinction.
The Cirque Shanghai production has a perfect venue in the Navy Pier 1,500-seat amphitheater, covered by a canopy in case of rain but with open sides so the spectators can see the water. The sight lines are perfect and at an hour and a quarter with no intermission the fast-paced show is a perfect fit for youthful attention spans. And if youngsters don’t dial into the more subtle and sophisticated ballet-oriented acts, there is Wang Quan to take over, charming every living but the seagulls with his high spirits and his talent.
“Cirque Shanghai: Warriors” runs through September 1 at Navy Pier. Performances are Wednesday and Saturday at 2, 6, and 8 p.m., Thursday at 2 and 8 p.m., Friday at 2, 7, and 9 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 4 p.m. Tickets are $19.50 to $39.50 for adults and $15.50 for children ages 3 to 12. Call 800 745 3000 or visit www.ticketmaster.com/shanghai.
The show gets a rating of 3½ stars May 2014
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