The Golden Dragon Acrobats’ Cirque Zíva is part dance, part acrobatics, and 100 percent spectacle.
By Merli V. Guerra
From the People’s Republic of China and direct from Broadway, the Golden Dragon Acrobats swept through Boston (at the Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre) last weekend (courtesy of World Music/CRASHarts) with a show that seemed to lift (and then leave) delighted viewers off their feet. Part dance, part acrobatics, and 100 percent spectacle, Cirque Zíva offered everything from creative balancing acts to physical comedy, from mesmerizing flexibility to masterful prop tricks.
At a length of two hours with a brief intermission, Cirque Zíva does not stint when it comes to showing off the dazzling skills of its performers. And speaking of the performers, let us note—for a moment—how wonderful it is to see a stage full of varied body types: some tall and limber, others robust and muscular, and some satisfyingly in between. In a world where dancers are expected to include height and weight on their resumes, and body image issues run rampant, it is a treat to see a company as professional as brining gifted individuals of all builds to the stage. And talented they are indeed.
The first half of the show is packed with one acrobatic act after the next. Entering the space on giant, colorful wheels, the performers show their strength as they hoist themselves over the tops of the hoops, then continue rolling, while others rock the stagnant wheels feverishly over the ground until, finally, they are pushed aloft. As the acts progress, centrifugal force and balance become the performers’ two most prized possessions. In one act, a woman impressively balances first one, then two, then five delicate tray of glass goblets on hands, feet, and forehead as she miraculously contorts herself into seemingly impossible positions. In another, five women converge to create what can only be described as a vertical human pinball machine, with each stacked upon the other, tossing balls up and down each level from hands to feet. Soon a little comedy takes shape, as the men come into the picture with a multitude of hats and begin to toss them seemingly haphazardly as they circle the room, yet each catch is (as usual) perfectly timed in a humorously nonchalant manner.
The second half of the show had the choreographer inside me stirring with delight even though it tended to emphasize theatricality and movement at the expense of the show’s earlier twisting and bending acrobatics. The act opens with the full company onstage, fluidly dissolving into a rush of men and women pacing the floor while twirling rope loops in hand. The result is at first a series of suspended circles walking alongside the performers, yet as the scene progresses and the performers become gradually bolder, these circles shift and ripple, almost taking on a life of their own. At one moment, the men onstage begin passing their entire bodies through the loops, creating what looks like undulating visual sound waves. Then the company returns with large lassos and the performers twirl within each horizontal ring: it is as if we are watching Saturn in time-lapsed orbit.
This theme of motion filling the stage continued as the dancers reemerged with glowing barbells balanced on strings. From barrel turns to leaps to tosses, the performers seamlessly (and at amazing speed) spin each barbell from string to string. They take impressive chances as they hurtle the props high into the air while performing backflips below, only to catch them once more, perfectly timed. Visually, the scene is quite striking: it not only uses the vertical space fully, but adds a lightening-quick component to the mix. Ironically, it was the brief silence during this act that, for me, made for the most memorable moment of the evening. Throughout the show, Cirque Zíva makes use of an ambitious array of musical choices, many with Asian-inspired undertones. There is a loud percussive drive to most of this accompaniment. Yet in this quiet segment, we could hear the swift buzzing sounds of barbells against string—of breath against heartbeat—and were suddenly reminded of the performers’ vulnerability.
And speaking of fragility, it was epitomized by the man who scaled a tower of chairs so tall the spotlight could barely reach him! Stacking one at a time and performing handstands on each as the tower grew, this man was quite easily the star of the evening. Leaning casually across the top of the tower—now mere inches from the top of the stage—his cheeky inquiry to the crowd (“Shall we do one more?”) was met with an overwhelming cheer of excitement.
Merli V. Guerra is a professional dancer with a background in ballet, modern, and classical Indian dance in the Odissi style, and an award-winning interdisciplinary artist with talents in choreography, filmmaking, writing, and graphic design. She is co-founder and artistic director of Luminarium Dance Company, production manager of Art New England magazine in Boston, and selects The Arts Fuse’s weekly coming attractions for dance.