Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 19, 2012

"The show of a hundred tricks"

We weren't sure what to expect when we went to last Thursday's Cirque Chinois performance by the National Circus of the People's Republic of China in Kansas State University's McCain Auditorium. But I think it is safe to say that from the time it began until it ended two hours later, husband Art, daughters Mariya and Katie, daughter-in-law Lacey and I were transported to another world by the acrobatics and antics of the performers.

Earlier in the day when we had lunch with Katie, she commented that she had no idea what to expect because she had never been to a circus. That caused me to pause. When I was growing up, it was something almost everyone had in common - everyone went to a circus at least once. But that is now something largely of yesteryear.

"I hope they have an elephant on the stage," Katie commented.

Ever the engineer, Art replied, "Doubt it. Don't think the stage could handle that."

There were no elephants, but we were still astounded by the various acts of balance, juggling, contortion, magic, martial arts and flying through the air.

In one act, young women bent over backward until their heads were on the floor and then put their legs over their heads and touched the floor with their feet. Other women then stacked on top of them until there was a pyramid of contorted bodies on stage.

"Don't do it!" Lacey said, as the last one climbed to the top.

I cringed, trying to imagine twisting my body like that. I used to be fairly flexible, but nothing compared to what I was witnessing on stage. I also couldn't help but think about that bad disk in my back.

Audience members gasped, then breathed a collective sigh of relief as the women slowly unwound their bodies.

Another act featured a couple on a silk rope suspended from the stage ceiling. They performed different moves as the rope was raised and lowered with the music. At one point, the woman was suspended above the stage by holding on to the man's head as the rope went in circles.

"Man, how strong is that guy's neck?" Katie said.

And so it went, with each act astonishing and delighting the audience.

A group of women with sequined silver dresses, silver feather headdresses and silver "talon" gloves appeared to be a flock of birds.

A man in a blue cape appeared on stage in one mask and, in quick succession, changed masks several times. At one point, he walked into the audience, revealed his face, and then it was gone, covered by another mask. None of us could comprehend how he did it.

Men and women - dressed in tribal costumes - jumped through rings. Another group performed martial arts with knives, sticks and swords while two Chinese "lions" danced nearby.

Women acrobats performed various somersaults and splits while spinning four plates with each hand. The synchronized spinning plates, suspended on yard-long pencil-thin sticks, looked like butterflies dancing above flowers.

Two men jumped from a ladder onto a teeter-totter, catapulting the person on the other side into the air and then onto a mattress or into a chair or onto another person's shoulders.

Another act featured men juggling three to five straw hats each and then passing the hats off to the next person in line in a continuous motion.

Every circus has to have a clown and this one was no exception. There was also a magician. The final act involved acrobatic tricks on bicycles.

When the show was over, people animatedly discussed their favorite parts. But trying to put into words what we had experienced was a bit like describing the taste of a wine or the beauty in a picture ... words just couldn't do it justice.

The program said The National Circus of the People's Republic of China was founded in 1953 and is one of the longest- running circus troupes in that nation. But the origin of the Chinese circus dates back at least 2,000 years. Some believe the circus evolved out of imperial court performances, but others think the circus was a folk art that was later adapted by the imperial houses. The ancient Chinese came to call the circus "the show of a hundred tricks."

After viewing the performance last week, I would say that the circus had at least that many, if not more! Once again, all five of us had been impressed with a great program K-State brought to campus ... great even without any elephants!

Top: Example of the elaborate costumes worn by the circus performers; bottom: plate juggling.
Pictures from McCain Auditorium website.

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