Theater Review: CIRQUE SHANGHAI: DRAGON’S THUNDER (Navy Pier)

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by Lawrence Bommer on May 30, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

A THUNDEROUS EVENT

The “thunder” in Dragon’s Thunder comes from huge kettle drums, prominently featured in a pounding competition between a Dragon and a Tiger (both win). It’s one of 14 lyrical or awesome acts in 2013’s welcome edition of Navy Pier’s annual Skyline Stage spectacle: Cirque Shanghai, the Eastern answer to a rather different Northern Cirque. In only 80 pizzazz-packed minutes, the 36 members of this young Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of Cirque Shanghai's DRAGON'S THUNDER, Navy Pier ChicagoChinese troupe (the largest to play the U.S.) regale Navy Pier audiences with traditional and technical tours de force. They get physical and, clearly, practice has made perfect.

You see that in the awesome Flex Bar, where acrobats perform flawless back and front flips, somersaults, and landings on horizontal bars in motion. More triumphs of precision balancing include the teeter board, as well as targeted horizontal dives through as many as five hoops with different circumferences. Employing a probably planted audience member, a clown juggler manages to fling four little bowls and a cup with spoon onto his very level head. Equally comic, a “rolla bolla” star balances on as many as five rolling cylinders, juggling and joking all the way.

The women, pretty with pink parasols or in bejeweled headdresses, specialize in flaunting gorgeous ancestral Chinese costumes in graceful choreography. They also indulge in elaborate spell-binding and spine-bending contortions as painful to watch as they must be to play (but their fixed smiles remain unshakable). One very flexible Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of Cirque Shanghai's DRAGON'S THUNDER, Navy Pier Chicagolady manages pirouettes en pointe on the shoulders and hands of her husky partner.

The acts also go aerial: The Gravity Swings propel jumpers onto shoulders and, looping and twirling, moving platforms. The romantic “silks” ballet displays a couple soaring in harness, as close to flying as illusion offers. Back from last year by popular demand, two show-stopping, crowd-pleasing headliner acts are saved for last. A showcase of exaggerated imbalance, the “Wheel of Destiny” features two incredibly surefooted athletes jumping rope or running blindfold both inside and outside of two rapidly rotating giant wheels (with no safety nets worth speaking of).

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of Cirque Shanghai's DRAGON'S THUNDER, Navy Pier ChicagoThe final piece de resistance is the heart-stopping “Globe of Death.” In this giant steel hoop, a record five, color-coded motorcyclists rotate around with barely inches to spare and seemingly no safety margin. (You wonder how many accidents it took to get this right, since the intricate movements they make would be impossible to achieve at lower speeds).

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of Cirque Shanghai's DRAGON'S THUNDER, Navy Pier ChicagoThe happily misnamed “Globe of Death” is an impossible act to follow. But it’s no more dazzling or demanding than the rest of this very special spectacle, a generous, stream-lined extravaganza of dexterity, stamina, delicacy, and brute strength. This summer spectacular performs to Labor Day.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of Cirque Shanghai's DRAGON'S THUNDER, Navy Pier Chicagophotos courtesy of Cirque Shanghai

Cirque Shanghai: Dragon’s Thunder
Pepsi Skyline Stage at Navy Pier
ends on September 2, 2013

for tickets, call 800-745-3000
or visit Ticketmaster

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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