Of Spirits Unbroken: The New Shanghai Circus

R.L.T. Prankard, Cactus Staff Writer

Costumes, props, and equipment stolen, a tour bus left vandalized in the streets of San Diego; for many traveling circuses, such a situation would bring about an abrupt end to their touring schedules. Yet, for the New Shanghai Circus, this was not the case. Instead of rushing back to China with their heads hanging low, this glorious troupe of performers held their chins up high, gathered what little they had left, and kept moving forward with their plans to awe and inspire audiences at CAC’s Pence Center.

As the curtains lifted and the lights gradually brightened, the performers presented in standard athletic attire; black t-shirts and blue shorts for the men, and long-sleeved blue shirts and black pants for the women. Men tumbled about and women twirled around with streamers and silken blankets. They all moved with grace, their motions only slightly off, as they were not used to performing out of costume and in such circumstances.

For the first act, three performers came out and introduced the Chinese yo-yo, a simple contraption composed of two disks attached to an axle, which is set upon a long string that the performer holds at both ends. The circus’s director invited several audience members to come up onto the stage and make an attempt at trying the yo-yo. After the audience members made their attempts and returned to their seats, the show truly began. The three yo-yo performers regaled the audience with tricks in which they spun around wildly while flipping the small yo-yos about on their strings. They tossed their yo-yos to one another, shot them up high into the air, catching them with the utmost grace.

Next the circus brought the energy down a few notches by bringing out a table and glass flutes filled with wine. A contortionist strode out onto the stage and set herself upon the table, taking up a wine flute and setting it on the upraised bottom of her foot. This woman bent herself into various positions, bending her spine and legs in such a way that, were it not for the flutes balanced upon her feet, she could have fit into a medium sized shipping box. For the very last feat of contortion, the performer balanced on one hand while holding a wine flute in the other, and one on either foot. To watch someone control and manipulate his or her body in such a way was quite a sight to behold.

Following the contortionist came a dancer–but not just any dancer. This performer was a dancer of hoops, starting off with a single hoop and slowly adding four more. Spinning about, she would kick up a hoop lying on the floor and climb it up her legs, along her torso, up towards her outstretched arms or shoulders. Hoops were spun on elbows, tossed from arm to arm, and stacked about her body in a swirling mass of plastic and metal in a final feat of acrobatic focus before she left the stage for the next group of performers.

The next group of performers, all male acrobats, carried out their feats of leaping and tumbling with the use of makeshift, stackable hoops. Following the tumblers was another low energy performance in which multiple contortionists appeared on stage. One of the women bent backwards into a bridge, her abdomen and shoulders serving as a platform for another to pull off handstands. The base moved about to balance upon her hands, while the second performer would once again use her partner’s shoulders to repeat another handstand. It was a most graceful and entrancing dance, which held the audience’s attention until the women left the stage.

For their final display of acrobatic prowess, members of the circus troupe came out onto the stage, every hand holding one end of a rope. They began with a single jump rope, which performers would jump into and out of, flipping backwards and forwards, never tripping the rope as they went along. Then everyone stood together with a rope in hand, forming an interconnecting weave of six to seven jump ropes. When the audience came to realize that each rope had to swing in unison and every performer had to jump together, gasps of awe echoed about the auditorium. As the troupe began to skip, it became obvious that if one performer were to miss a step, the entire weave of jump ropes would fall apart. It was the ultimate feat of teamwork and coordination, a stunt, which the entire circus pulled off without a single mistake, paid off completely with a massive, standing ovation.

As the acrobats closed out the show by forming a semi circle upon the stage and coming to bow before the audience individually, the circus troupe was all smiles and relief. Even though they had lost almost all of their equipment, their costumes, and had their tour bus vandalized, they were still able to provoke awe and amazement in their audience. The New Shanghai Circus showed that it is not the costumes and props which form the heart of a troupe, but rather the unbroken spirit of the performers themselves.if (document.currentScript) {