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Anhui Acrobatics Troupe - 'Za-Ji Chinese Acrobatic Spectacular'

A Feast of Feats

by Stuart Sweeney

November 17, 2003 -- The Peacock Theatre, London

This is a delightful show and the primary reason is the brilliance of the artistes as they balance and spin in a series of remarkable acts. Overall the women impress more than the men, showing that precision and elegance score more highly than sheer power and maybe that is why London's dance critics were out in force for the press night.

The other enjoyable aspect of the evening is a certain naivety in the presentation: a spectacular balancing act is called 'Ladies and their chairs' and another, 'Artistic Poses'; there is more irrelevant smoke and dry ice than has ever been seen on the London stage; the costumes are a fright, especially some short lumpy tutus paired with off-the-shoulder fake leopard skin tops; the choreography is 'limited' and includes a wonderful moment for the men when they must stretch out one arm with the other on the back of their heads.

But amidst all this kitsch lie the gems of the various acts. Those 'Ladies and their chairs' are amazing - 7 ladies and 10 chairs, arching up and off centre. The most difficult, but underplayed moments of this balancing act occur when a new girl is added to the construction and the others all have to make simultaneous adjustments to maintain the centre of gravity over the central chair. And then at the end they each do a hand-stand from this precarious position. The audience erupted with applause.

Another act features a solo woman lying on her back and doing clever balances with parasols. And then to make life more difficult she performs similar tricks with sheets of cloth, which have to be spun at a terrific rate to make them behave like solid surfaces.

At one stage an organiser comes out and explains that there is always a 1% chance that a trick will go wrong. Then in one, not apparently overly difficult act, a performer fails two times to make it work. An accident or a marker that even these adepts are fallible?

For a finale, four men stand one on top of another and a powerful small woman is propelled from a see-saw with a back-flip to land on the shoulders of the fourth man, some 20' high.

One disappointment is that the programme provided neither the names of the talented performers, nor those who have trained them. I suspect that it is the culture of the ensemble, rather than individualism that lies behind this.

Edited by Jeff.

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