‘Shanghai Nights’: Shanghai Acrobats of the People’s Republic of China
WHEN | WHERE 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20, Madison Theatre at Molloy College, 100 Hempstead Ave., Rockville Centre
TICKETS $35-$55; 866-811-4111, madisontheatreny.org
New Yorkers are rightfully proud to call the five boroughs west of Long Island America’s and perhaps the world’s greatest city. But they beg to differ in China where its greatest city, Shanghai, boasts a population of more than 24 million and its sprawling area makes it the largest city proper in the world.
So look out, the Chinese are coming! Well, 42 of them are, as the Shanghai Acrobats of the People’s Republic of China arrive in Rockville Centre for a matinee performance Sunday.
The company’s coast-to-coast North American tour now working its way into the tristate area presents a storytelling circus-style performance of “Shanghai Nights — Dream Journey,” described by the company’s artistic director, Zhao Shuangwu, as a “dream world fantasy come to life.”
Interviewed by email through an interpreter, Zhao, who won the Gold Lion prize for her contortionist act in China’s National Acrobatic Competition, says that all the artists on tour have also competed for national and international acrobatic awards. Another acrobat celebrity in China who is part of this show is Wang Pei. In his specialty, the Chinese poles — climbing vertically and holding poses between two poles — he won a gold medal in national competition. He also won a Silver Clown prize in the Monte Carlo circus competition.
“Shanghai Nights,” Zhao says, opens with a dreaming boy attracted to a “beautiful fairy phoenix flying over the sea, wings splashing into the waves.”
Among the acrobatic acts performed in the pantomime storytelling are soaring teeterboard tandems, aerialists maneuvering through silks or rings, merry jugglers tossing straw hats and ballerinas twirling en pointe on an acrobat’s strong shoulders.
“We try our best to express the story with music, stage props and acrobatics,” Zhao says. “For instance, we introduce the feeling of first love through the aerial silks. Harmony is expressed through the cooperation of teeterboard performers” — one acrobat propels the other by jumping from a height onto one end of an elongated seesaw while his partner on the far end is sent soaring high above the stage and teammates catch him on a stack of mats.
“The ballet on shoulder,” Zhao says, “conveys the tragic picture of the fairy phoenix after the fantasy palace is invaded by evil spirits.”
Clowns play a dual role in “Shanghai Nights.” They greet the dreaming boy at the fantasy palace where the phoenix has led him — celebrating with comic tricks, flying straw hats and imitations of birds singing, while the teeterboard team revels in highflying exaltation.
But the mood turns after intermission as a troupe of unicyclists invades the palace — a ballet adagio signifying the phoenix’s drooping feathers. Hoop diving and frantic climbing up an ever-rising stack of chairs enact the anger of a great fire and a desperate attempt to escape. A clown sacrifices himself to save the boy but cannot save the fairy phoenix.
But it’s only a dream, after all. The boy awakes to the sound of a saxophone as acrobats on stilts spin plates that represent a fantasy forest.
EAST MEETS WEST
The show is not designed especially for Western audiences, Zhao says, who adds that “Shanghai Nights” is suitable for all ages. “We do similar shows in China,” she says. “But from the beginning, the creation of this show and others like it were set in motion toward being appreciated by both Eastern and Western audiences.”
The state-owned company was founded in 1959 and has survived such upheavals as Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. The Shanghai Acrobats troupe has toured the world since the 1980s.
“We have excellent artists who have won awards in competitions at home and abroad,” Zhao says. “It takes many years of training for most of these disciplines.”
In other words, don’t try this at home.