Brilliant fusion of East and West

 Swan Lake

The Guandong Acrobatic Troupe of China

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

FABULOUS, stunning, fantastic, spectacular, amazing, breath-taking . . . you just start to run out of superlatives. This is Barnum and Bailey meets ballet, circus with a tutu.

Acrobatics is popular entertainment in China and this troupe have merged all those skills and disciplines with one of the world's best loved, traditional ballets to produce a version of Swan Lake like no other. It is rare to leave a theatre completely amazed. Even rarer with this show will be finding anyone who leaves who isn't.

There are acrobats, some performing on poles balanced on shoulders of fellow performers, somersalts on stilts, tumblers, jugglers, unicycles, giant wheels, frogs, monkeys and even an elephant and a camel – told you it was different – and some nifty magic all crammed into two hours. There was also plenty of enthusiasm and comedy including a quartet of distinctly male cygnets.

As a ballet  I don’t think Birmingham Royal Ballet next door will be looking too hard over their shoulder, but that is not what this show is about. It is about fusing two cultures together into a glorious piece of entertainment which even BRB could appreciate.

The principals all have gymnastic and acrobatic training with only one, Yu Wanqing, who plays the Black Swan, starting in ballet and even she joined the Guangdong troupe at 14, eight years ago..

The emphasis is on acrobatics rather than ballet although the White Swan, Wu Zhengdan, not only looks the part of a ballerina but danced her role well.

WORLD TITLE

She started eurhythmics at the age of six and as an acrobatic gymnast for 10 years won three national and one world title.

One of the highlights was her en-point and an extreme arabesque and pirouette on the head of her partner, in real life as well as the show, Wei Baohua, who plays the Prince.

That was just stunning and one of the many heart in mouth moments when you could hear the audience gasp. He is apparently about 12 stone and she about seven and earlier she had been en-pointe on his arms and shoulder.

We had a contortionist Tan Wanxia, who seems to have joints where most of us just sport aches and pains, Chen Hua, a juggler whose technique and skill was faultless. Because his didn’t somersault  himself from pole to pole, or defy death or injury, he perhaps did not quite get the recognition his supreme skill deserved but that was rectified when he produced a blur of balls on a sprung frame in the finale.

That is not to say it was all circus though. The corps de ballet of 18 on roller skates  was bizarrely beautiful  as they glided around the stage and that was reduced to 10 later all en-pointe in one of the balletic moments.

The show, set to Tchaikovsky’s music, kept much to the story of Swan Lake  and we even had a happy ending when the Eagle King, played by Luo Hong, is taken out by an arrow from the prince freeing the Swan Princess from her spell just in time for the rapturous standing ovation at the end.

It’s Swan Lake, Jim, but not as we know it as Spock might have said , a show like nothing else on earth which at times is a thing of beauty, and has unbelievable skills and abilities on display along with superb costumes and clever scenery and lighting making it an experience not to be missed.

Perhaps if we all practised at home, for a long, long time, we might just . . .  no. Just go and see it. It is awesome. To 27-08-11

Roger Clarke 

And from the other side of the lake . . .

 *****

SIMPLY sensational. The Guandong Acrobatic Troupe of China thrilled large audiences at the Hippodrome with a stunning display of ballet and breathtaking acrobatics that was almost beyond belief.

Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, in its traditional form, is a magnificent ballet, but here the Chinese stars, in conjunction with the Shanghai City Entertainment Group Company, have taken it to a new level of extraordinary skill and daring.

The result is a show that has just about everything, frequently drawing bursts of cheering and applause, with one man sitting just behind me in the stalls gasping: "Unbelievable.....unbelievable".

BALANCING

One of many high spots came with Wu Zhengdan, the Swan Princess, balancing on one point on the head of Wei Baohua, the Prince, having earlier performed a similar act on her partner's shoulders.

Male members of the cast darted up 25ft poles held by other dancers then leapt or somersaulted from one to the other, we saw clever juggling with hats and balls, amazing scenes with men speeding around stage in steel hoops, ballerinas dancing on skates and just about every contortion the human body can take.

And for good measure there was a dash of real humour from four 'drag' ballerinas.

Oh, and the costumes were magnificent too. The long and enthusiastic standing ovation at the close said it all.

Swan Lake as you have never seen it before closes on Saturday night, August 27.

Paul Marston

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