Monday, December 8, 2014

red and gold dragon

red and gold dragon
with cape and fan magically
shape changes faces

The masked figure -- is it a man or a woman? -- prances around the stage, flourishing a large red fan and red cape embroidered with gold dragons. In the blink of an eye, the mask changes, now blue, now black, now red, now yellow -- a dozen times. Finally, the last mask comes off and we see that the illusionist is a woman. 

The National Acrobats of the People's Republic of China has been mesmerizing audiences worldwide with stunning displays of acrobatics, balance, juggling, contortions and illusions for over 60 years. Our little town of Fairfield, Iowa, was are fortunate to be part of their 2014 North American "Cirque Peking" tour for a sold-out performance at the Sondheim Center.

Vibrant costumes and music add to the spectacle.

Juggling a drum end over end is more difficult than spinning the drum on its side. Each act progresses from difficult to seemingly impossible.

Spinning five plates on long poles in each hand is quite a feat, but how about keeping them going while doing the splits on someone's shoulders?

To literally top it all, a woman keeps her plates spinning while doing a hand stand on another acrobat's head, while that acrobat stands on top of another acrobat's shoulders. It's simply unbelievable. The upside down acrobat's feet are at least 15 feet (3 meters) above the stage and the plates almost to the top of the curtains. Lots of spotters for this stunt.

Riding a tall unicycle is hard enough, but balancing a pile of bowls on top of your head at the same time is even more difficult. Then add to that, one lady catches bowls tossed from one foot by each of her companions, who manage to keep their unicycles in place with the other foot.

A whole group of men perform stunts on unicycles, but this one is the most amazing. The tall unicycle consists of two parts, a large "wheel"and a "fender" with attached seat and pedals balanced on top. At the end, the acrobat leans forward and jumps off, holding the top section.

Two men holding up three ladies, another man and a boy. The troupe has a training program with 50 teachers and 500 students, many of them quite young.

Amazing to see someone doing a complete back bend, let alone holding up someone doing a handstand.

A pair of men display tremendous strength and balance in a series of graceful poses.

Another couple show not only strength but incredible flexibility.

And then there is the woman who turns into a pretzel inside a giant green slinky. At one point she walks her legs all the way around her body. Must have a spine like a snake.

Twirling a lariat ain't easy, but this "cowgirl" is doing it upside down on one foot.

Two men tumbling through a lariat.

That's four ropes the woman in the middle is jumping. We used to jump rope in grade school, but the most I ever managed was two ropes at the same time.

Then there are the men who do somersaults while jumping rope.

Also somersaulting over a flag.

And jumping through higher and higher hoops.

Balancing on a flexible bamboo pole takes skill and focus.

But how about doing it on a mono-stilt, then execute a somersault and come down with that tiny foot on the narrow pole. A spotter keeps his eye on her the whole time.

This colorful clown demonstrates how fast he can switch hats.

I've tried juggling ordinary bean bags. Not easy. But juggling hats? At one point he has five high in the air.

Five little worms turn into one big caterpillar and amble across the stage.

A dazzling display of costumes and spinning yoyos lit by black light. The performers do fantastic tricks with the Chinese tzuh-ling, also known as empty bell, pulling bell or wind bell, using the sticks to toss the yoyos in the air and all around their bodies.

All too soon, the grand finale. One young man top right demonstrates that it's not as easy as it looks.

欢迎再来 Huānyíng zàiláiHuānyíng zàilái  ! Please come again!
Goodbye and come again!

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