By:  Hal de Becker


The National Circus and Acrobats of the People’s Republic of China performed at Ham Hall recently and it was refreshing to be able to concentrate on performances by skilled humans for a change rather than super special effects.


China’s attractive young performers, some looking like teenagers, didn’t need glitzy gimmicks to support their performance.  They were strictly on their own whether creating a ten-person pyramid on a bicycle circling the stage; or doing aerial somersaults through a hoop eight feet off the ground; or twirling long ropes in a circle around themselves like a cowboy lasso, and leaping and turning flips in and out of it.      


Each of the 30 artists executed so many feats of strength, agility and balance that I was surprised to see what good dancers they were, too.  The excellent choreography was custom tailored for them with interspersed acro-moves.        


A hula hoop segment was dated and I did have a dubious moment early in the program watching an all-too-familiar adagio routine.  However, my doubts were quickly dispelled when a score of male and female acro-dancers filled the stage with the exciting moves and colorful, richly decorated costumes that distinguished the rest of the production.  


Although acrobatic skill was the main ingredient of the show, some selections had a   theme.  One was a thrilling hoop-diving number which, according to the program notes, depicted how China’s “Young people work at an extreme pace” to “constantly achieve new speed records.”


In a representation of that aspect of China’s culture, eight men crisscrossed the stage with breathtaking speed, leaping, diving and whirling through stationary hoops.  (I wonder if having to ‘jump through a hoop’ has the same connotation in China as it does here.)     


In another segment, during a series of acrobatic moves atop sky-high, one wheel uni-cycles, three girls each extended a leg and placed a bowl on their toes.  They’d then kick the bowls high into the air and catch them on top of their pretty heads. 


They repeated this with two bowls fitting loosely together, and then with three and eventually five.  The bowls separated as they flew through the air, somehow landing back into each other one at a time on the girls’ heads.      


In a humorous male strip tease, a juggling duo spun six clubs back and forth to each other while at the same time removing hats, jackets, shirts, pants and shoes.  When it came to putting their pants back on they were off balance, teetering on one leg, and compelled to catch a club between their knees in order to have one free helping hand.  Whew! 


Many other feats of manipulation and balance involved props such as multiple stacked chairs, parasols and hats.  My own favorite was a high vertical pole culminating at its summit with a small revolving platform on which a male soloist executed slow, gravity defying moves with the grace of a dancer.      


His sustained poses included the exquisitely difficult ‘plange’ where the arms are positioned as if at the beginning of a pushup with the rest of the body, legs and torso, held horizontally off the ground. 


He also pressed up into a one arm handstand and then smoothly shifted from one arm to the other.  In another move he gripped the side of the pole with both hands and opened his body away from it to resemble a flag – which happens to be the name of that particular position.        


There were no names credited in the printed program but all the artists involved, performers, directors, designers and choreographers deserved the cheers, applause and standing ovation given by the audience.