Cirque Shanghai in Bai Xi
(© Aubrey Hayes)
Cirque Shanghai in Bai Xi
(© Aubrey Hayes)
Cirque Shanghai's Bai Xi, now at the New Victory Theatre, means "100 amazing acts" and the show draws from Chinese acrobatic spectacles that date back more than 2000 years to the Han Dynasty. But everything old will seem new to the many children here, and the piece is fortunately the kind of family show parents can take their kids to and not wince at ill-plotted story lines and bad dialogue.

Outside the confines of a contrived storyline, company members have more time to leapfrog each other through a maze of hoops, contort their bodies in every which way as they stack on top of each other, and even send one brave woman to balance on a frightfully high stack of chairs. Watching her spin gracefully through the air may render even the chatty kid-filled audience momentarily speechless.

It's fun, though, to see the enthusiasm of the kids as they raise their hands frantically, hoping to be picked for one of the many audience participation segments. These bits include one colorfully dressed member, Yuhua Li, teaching the kids (and a couple brave adults) a few juggling moves. It's true, however, that for those not involved, these moments can quickly wear thin and cause the show to drag during its 80-minute running time.

Everyone has their favorite circus act -- from contortionists to hoop divers -- and Bai Xi features most of these classics, as well as their take on the classic clown car, where several acrobats (at least eight by my count) climb on a single-seat bike as it circles the stage. It's hard to imagine how they all fit and mange to look so poised in the process, not to mention all the death-defying action they cram onto a pretty cozy stage. Indeed, the "wheel of death" in the finale is so large in comparison as to require many a head turning.

My favorite, though, is a somewhat smaller moment with just two performers on roller skates. Perched on a platform centerstage, the man puts one end of a double-ended loop around his neck then attaches the other to the woman standing next to him. She's then spun around him, gliding effortlessly through the air. It's a sight to behold!