The Acrobatic Troupe that performed in Ottawa for two weeks at the Music and Beyond festival was from Hebei. Like me, the Ottawa Citizen reviewer noticed how "regular chamber music patrons [were] sitting next to parents with young children and multigenerational families from Ottawa’s Chinese community." It was a lively audience, for sure, for the Thursday matinée performance that I attended.
Some of the programme notes were baffling or misleading. The Horizontal Bar, for instance, turned out to mean the Vertical Bar, but nobody minded. Before the scene entitled "Power Balance Two" we were told that "performers will assume powerful poses, using nothing but the strength of their own bodies". We saw one man standing vertically and the other stretched rigid, shoulder height above the ground, in a horizontal pose at right angles to his supporter. Not so easy to achieve, I should imagine!
At one point we watched another acrobat "twirl and twist while suspended high above the stage by aerial ribbons in breathtaking flight" as the programme notes put it, her ribbons being long, scarlet, silk scarves. That was an awesome display of artistry.
Between the more serious acts, two clowns came on stage, making animals out of balloons and throwing them to the eager children, to keep. Behind me, a whole row of little boys were on their feet, yelling for balloons. Twice, we saw a conjuror, too, turning batons into silk scarves and vice versa, or tangling and disentangling shiny hoops with a wave of the hand. This was "Traditional Chinese Magic," so I gather. (A friend of mine, who has been on a few business trips to China, still speaks with horror of the occasion years ago, when she was taken out to a show by her Chinese colleagues and had a conjuror pull cold, dead fish from her pockets, which made everyone laugh enormously. Traditional Chinese Humour, I daresay. Personally, she didn't enjoy that experience at all.)
As an introduction to one of the scenes, traditional Chinese music was performed. The two girl musicians in long white robes, each played a guzheng (古筝), like a horizontally laid harp, with nail extensions for plucking, and a man added to their duet on his recorder-like bamboo flute. The contortionist display that followed had performers "bending their bodies with incredible flexibility" while balancing flaming candelabras in their mouths and on their foreheads, feet and hands. I dread to think what accidents might have occurred while this act was being rehearsed. Maybe I'm too imaginative, but here's a dark side to circuses which I cannot avoid thinking about when I see shows like this; it makes me feel uneasy. Witness Gustave Doré's horrific painting of the injured (probably dying) child who has fallen from a trapeze. These Chinese performers have been trained from an early age too, literally putting them through the hoops.
The finale was a display of Hoop Diving by the young men of the troupe flinging themselves through a series of hoops, towering ever higher, onto a thick mat. Sometimes they twisted or flipped their bodies as they dived. Sometimes three or four men flung one another through in fast succession, propelled by the arms and legs of the one behind.
Also known as “Swallow Play”(for its imitation of swallows in flight), this act features performers leaping nimbly through narrow mat rings, demonstrating a sophisticated combination of dance, balancing and jumping skills.