An evening of piquant entertainment awaited the large crowd that turned out for artists from Shanghai and Peking, who we guarantee did many things that you've never seen before. The Shanghai Acrobats promised a new and different show, and they delivered a series of acts that made you doubt the accuracy of your eyesight.
For example, how many have seen a normal-size man balance on his head 19 benches weighing more than 400 pounds (not to mention hoisting them up there in the first place)? Or a young woman position a wine glass on her nose, then build up a tower of glasses and candles and climb up and down steps without jogging the liquid?Somewhere out there, there's a think-tank of Chinese masters who spend their time dreaming up the impossible, then set their young apprentices to accomplish it. I say young because no one looked to be over 30. And it's easy to see why it's a young person's art, requiring nimble wit and physical stamina.
In the "Pagoda of Bowls," a diminutive girl balanced and contorted herself 50 different ways, often with only one hand on her partner's head, while holding a stack of bowls on her head, or transferring a few to her foot.
Visions of suffocation accompanied the sight of another young woman who compressed herself to tidily fit into a variety of barrel sizes, usually coming out the same way she went in. Another was the star of a so-called vault-bar act, in which she stood on a flexible pole, flipped by two men with the perfect coordination to fling her up for midair somersaults or even a double somersault, before landing deftly on her feet each time. "Death-defying" might be the word for this, for two burly men stood by, one hoping to guard against her ever hitting the mat.
But there was little cause to worry. In fact, you felt no such pangs of anxiety about the outcome as you often do with American or even European acrobats.
These people are the product of the Oriental capacity for taking pains, and probably practice endlessly; hence they practically never miss. And everything is done with good humor, and often with the puckish sort of comedy for which the Chinese are noted.
A jar juggler made very heavy-looking urns land on his head as lightly as balloons and stay where they lit as firmly as if attached by Velcro. Nor should one fail to mention the funny couple who kept kitchen hijinks going, spinning 21 plates, or the man capering up a flexible pole while balancing a plate of eggs atop a 3-foot rod, which in turn balanced on a dowellike stick in the mouth.
In all, 10 Imperial Warriors are on this tour, but did not all appear on stage together until the final act, "The Monkey King in the Heavenly Place." This Monkey King is a brash, irrepressible fellow, an expert acrobat and mimist who stirs things up after the manner of Bugs Bunny. And though he's far too refined to reduce his surroundings to rubble, he does take an irreverent poke at whoever chances to come by, even up to the king himself.
"Warriors" suggests heavy battle, perhaps in the tradition of the Japanese Samurai, but not so in Chinese opera. Whatever combat we saw was make-believe, such as the opening slapstick duel between an innkeeper and a soldier, with instructions that you should imagine the scene laid in thick darkness; or the Monkey King's stylized fight at the bottom of the sea with a shrimp and a turtle.