‘Cirque Chinois’ at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts by Dr. Cheryl Paulhus

I attended the spectacular new production, Cirque Chinois tonight at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts performed by The National Circus of the People’s Republic of China.

Step right up to acrobatic thrills, music, costume, and a fine ensemble of performers operating at the intersection of skill, courage, and grace. Cirque Chinois, meaning Chinese Circus, is a collection of intriguing acts; men flying through stacks of hoops, women balancing sets of china while balancing other women, aerial feats and martial-arts inspired dances and stunts which struck awe and fear into the audience. The show creates a palpable tension between dangerous verticality and dreaminess in which the characters fly float dive and fall into an ethereal world. What awaits you is an eye-filling, dazzling treat for the entire family!

The National Circus of the People’s Republic of China has had a transforming influence on the world circus society through its introduction of the “non-animal circus”. Renowned the world over for their signature acts, such as the “Great Teeterboard”, “Grand Flying Trapeze”, and “Group Contortion”; these performers have received numerous international awards and worldwide acclaim. For nearly six decades, the National Circus of the People’s Republic of China has been performing its unique brand of circus, a style that has had a profound influence on the world circus society, including Cirque du Soleil.

In a pre-performance discussion, Deputy Director of Cirque Chinois, Mr. Wu Shaoji told  the audiences that, “We are the teachers of Cirque du Soleil. We are known in China as home of acrobatics of the world….The competition is great, 100’s of children will audition for only a few spots, much like the ballet. We also look for similar physical qualities. Tonight the performers are between the age of 16 and 38. When they are done with the performing aspect of their career they will be coaches or help with management of the company.”

The show opened this evening with an elegant atmosphere, the music and exotic costumes evoked a sense of ominous mystery. My eyes were greeted with vast pools of sapphire and ruby light and images of otherworldly beauty, composed of bodies building structures in the air.

Cirque Chinois did not tell an epic tale as I thought it might by the opening scene, rather it was more a collection of intriguing acts; inviting one to explore the limits of imagination where you dream of transcending human bounds. The gravity defying acts were a staple of the show, keeping one watching in anticipation of the inevitable fall that might happen at any moment.

There were several aerial acts that were phenomenal. One act consisted of a duet flying dreamily through the air, wrapped in each other’s arms at one moment, the next, spinning high above the stage barely holding on. In another aerial act a group of 12 girls took turns arranging themselves inside of a round hoop and contorting themselves into infinite shapes in the air while they spun like tops. There were warrior dances, jumping through hoops with incredible precision and martial art influences abundant in many of their numbers.

Photo courtesy of Cirque Chinois.

Although almost every act was a showstopper there was one that stood out for the entire audience.The act consisted of yes – Death Defying Feats, somewhat akin to the circus act when someone is shot from a cannon! The acrobats were catapulted high into the air off of a seesaw and did Olympic style tumbles high in the air only to land on a mattress below! They also did this with one performer on stilts and another landing in a chair! It is almost indescribable because I had never seen anything like it!

The acts were ceaseless; one after another they came throughout the show. Visually delightful with beautiful gold, silver and colorful costuming, feathers, sequins this was part Las Vegas and part exotic and mysteriously oriental.

Unfortunately, the program did not individually name who the performers are so I cannot tell you exactly who some of these extraordinary people are!

While watching the show, it was not difficult to understand why the ancient art has survived. Chinese acrobatic shows combine both physical and spiritual in which the acrobat’s immense athletic strength, perfect balance and timing unfold into various transcendental dimensions that kept the audience intrigued.

The traveling group of Chinese acrobats and dancers gave a performance this evening filled with technical precision, visually tantalizing choreography and costume design.

The transitions were a bit clipped which would jar the senses back to reality, a place you were resisting! And then back to the far away land. Overall, the show reflected timeless art, and a real testimony to what a circus can be.

Each act was followed by a complete moment of blackness, lights out, sound down. You became aware of your place in the audience, and suddenly back to the show!

The audience at George Mason University experienced the transformative power of creativity as these top level athletes of China pursued their artistic expression in an innovative and audacious magical realm known as Cirque Chinois. Do not miss your opportunity to see this fabulous show!

Photo courtesy of Cirque Chinois.

Running Time: Two hours 15 minutes, with one 10 minute intermission.

Cirque Chinois is SOLD OUT for its final performance today, October 21, 2012, at 4 PM.


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Dr. Cheryl Paulhus
Cheryl has worked as a dancer, choreographer, teacher and as a mental health therapist for the last 25 years. Cheryl has a lifelong love of dancing starting at the age of 4 and went on to receive her B.S. in Dance from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. While at college she performed with the Skidmore Company for four years working with members of the NYCB, American Ballet Theater, Martha Graham Company, and Peggy Hackney. Upon graduation she performed as a soloist with the Repertoire Dance Company in Olympia, Washington, the Jo Emery Jazz Company in Tacoma, Washington and did freelance work with Dennis Spaight, performing his original works. Cheryl performed her own original works of choreography at the annual “Movement Montage”, in Tacoma, Washington, the Silver Bird Theater in Olympia and collaborated with many artists in the northwest to present multi-media and dance theatre projects at the Capital City Studio in Olympia, Washington. Upon her return to the East coast in 1996 she founded an after school dance program for at-risk youth in Concord, NH and Franklin, NH in affiliation with the Riverbend Community Mental Health Center. Dr. Paulhus earned her Doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Argosy University in Sarasota Florida and now resides in Alexandria, Virginia providing mental health services.


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