Monday, October 31, 2016

the age-old story

the age-old story
of love and loss, good and evil,
on the stage of life

Sondheim Theater is sold out for the Shanghai Acrobats, as it is every year. But this year the show is different, a dream journey, enacting the age-old story of love and loss, good and evil, like a Chinese Ramayana. It begins with a dreaming boy who jumps into the sea to follow a fairy phoenix. 

Touched by his courage she saves him and invites him to fly with her. The phoenix leads the dreaming boy to a palace of fantasy, with clowns, acrobats, teeterboards and juggling. I have a good view from the balcony nearest the stage. No flash allowed, which would disturb the acrobats, but my camera works pretty well with high ISO.

Aerial ballet in a ring, the call of love.

Three acrobats demonstrate strength and flexibility.

Pixies juggle "pearls" on their feet.

A series of men in red soar through the air. One jumps on a wide tightrope, does a flip and lands on the narrow strip, while the phoenix and her courtiers watch from the sidelines.

Two men jump on one end of a teeterboard, catapulting another man high above the stage to land on a trampoline held up by other men.

Another man on top of a mono-stilt is supported by long poles on the end of the teeterboard. The men at the other end wait for his signal, a sharp "Ha!" He flips from the teeterboard, landing the tip of his stilt in the middle of the trampoline.

The clown and the handmaiden draw some laughs with their pantomimed antics, but then he shows his agility by balancing on a rola rola and flipping four bowls onto a stack on top of his head.

Acrobatic juggling with straw hats.

The palace of fantasy is invaded by evil. From behind walls, the demon king appears with his troop of skeleton-masked warriors against a night sky. This is the Friday before Halloween, so the kids in the audience don't seem too disturbed by their garish costumes. The demon king, wearing a headdress with long red feathers, decides to kill the dreaming boy in order to seize and control the fairy phoenix. When the clown sacrifices himself to save the boy, I hear a gasp from the kids.

The evils lock the phoenix in a huge red jail and tear her feathers off. demon king sheds his robes and does a pas de deux with the Princess in the near darkness , ending with her standing on his shoulder on one foot en pointe

The phoenix flies into the fire that lights up the ruined palace of fantasy.

We are still in semi-darkness when the hoop divers begin, symbolizing the anger of fire. The acrobats in red headdresses progress from one hoop to a stack of three and then multiple stacks, leaping through from different directions.

The dreaming boy wakes up in a forest of fairy trees that are all shining. Floating in on top of long white cone skirts, mincing on tall stilts, they are spinning plates on the end of five long sticks held in each hand. Their wrists move ever so slightly as they raise the sticks in the air, then lower them forward so that some of the spinning plates are nearly vertical. Suddenly, their skirts light up. The audience claps at the return of the light, even though it is still night.

One last acrobatic feat. A man stacks chairs on top of each other, balancing on each, until he is almost to the top of the stage. One last chair, tilted, and he does a hand stand at the very top. I notice that there is a long sword attached to the second chair from the top, but he does not use it. Instead, when he descends, he hands it to the boy. 

The boy searches for the fairy phoenix and finds one of her white feathers. He "climbs a mountain" and places the feather on the peak.

Descending from his fruitless search, the boy lies on the ground, curled around the sword. A magician appears and practices his spells, imitating birds and other creatures, to the delight of the audience. Finally, he waves his hand over the boy, who arises, holding the sword. He fights the demon king and when the boy slays the evil one, the audience cheers. Good triumphs over evil once again!

Desperate, the boy climbs a mountain, searching for the fairy phoenix. She returns, reborn from the fire, and ascends to the embrace of the boy. Loud clapping and cheering. During the finale, when all the members appear in their costumes, even the demon king draws loud applause. After all, he played his role well. Without him, there would be no drama.

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