Being bend-y was never my thing. My sense of self-worth was in no way related to whether or not I could do the splits (probably a good thing, considering that I even find touching my toes a bit of a stretch), and my lack of gymnastic ability had never really bothered me…until, that is, I had the good fortune to see the Hebei Acrobatic Troupe, when it had me near suicidal.
These guys are incredible. They even put the lead-footed way that I walk to shame. However, the urge to kill myself aside, watching the troupe perform was the most exhilarating 90 minutes I’ve spent in a long time (probably since I saw Circus Oz!). The show comprises a dozen short acts that feature some thirty members of the troupe, and while acrobatics may be the ostensible focus of the performance, there is also juggling, magic (exactly how many umbrellas can one man fit down his trousers?), ‘contemporary’ dance, and, of course, more traditional lion dancing (wah! backflipping lions!). Infact, these not-quite-so-acrobatic acts are among the most enjoyable in the show, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that they tend to be somewhat more light-hearted in tone – less dangerous, more theatrical (the plate-spinning chefs are particularly cool.)
Besides the performances themselves, the rest of the production is something of a mixed bag. The costumes are either sublime (most of the boys) OR ridiculous (most of the girls), with no middle ground, and while the lighting manages to be stylish without being overwhelming, the less said about the music the better. None of this really matters though, because the emphasis is always placed squarely on the acrobats, especially when they’re juggling tables with their feet or passing fifteen foot-high metal poles to one-another using their heads.
Tempting as it is to rattle off a list of every cool moment in the show (and there’s a lot of ’em), I’m going to hold off and end here with a simple commendation: whether you’re looking for an exciting way to celebrate New Year, a reason to kill yourself or just plain enjoy men jumping through hoops, check out the Hebei Acrobatic Troupe NOW!
Hebei Acrobatic Troupe of China appeared at Crown Showroom (Melbourne) until 7 February 2004.