Taiji wows with variety

Updated: 2013-10-18 08:09

(China Daily)

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Review | Raymong Zhou

Taiji kicked off its global tour on Oct 11 and, judging by the audience response, what happened at Beijing's Poly Theater may well be repeated around the world. And it does not really matter whether you are familiar with this particular Chinese martial arts practice, which is also spelt as tai chi.

A 90-minute extravaganza in visual splendor and acrobatic feats, this stage performance is a reminder of those eye-popping and mind-boggling Cirque du Soleil theme shows but with a distinct Chinese twist.

The use of tai chi as a leitmotif has proved to be a fountain of inspiration for every aspect of the show, from choreography to costume design.

You don't see the brightly colored Chinese symbols ubiquitous on such occasions. Instead, the stark black-and-white scheme has turned an otherwise busy program into a subdued exercise in balancing yin and yang, a theme inherent in tai chi and here infused throughout rather than outright stated.

Taiji has the structure of a dance drama, but at its heart it is a variety show.

The thinly plotted story line of a global traveler is a nice touch, especially when the role is played by Chinese-American Isaac Hou, who pulls off some of the most crowd-pleasing acts in the show such as "the Universe Ring" and "the Magic Crystal Ball".

For those who have not seen him on TV and have a seat to the back of the house, a live video projection of his close-up could have accentuated the wow effect.

Other than this narrative framework, the show has as much story as Cats the musical, with no singing of course. The incorporation of dance, tai chi and acrobatics is almost seamless. The 24 teenage disciples from Shaolin Tagou Education Group are energetic and competent as martial-arts wallflowers, but it is the principal players highlighted in each scene who are the true stars.

These include He Chao who performs the rapid change of face masks, Wei Wei who contorts her body into amazing forms, Wu Changzhen and Kong Qian-qian who fly through the air on a rope, and Qing Fengzi who walks on a narrow and rotating platform protruding high into the audience, without a safety net or wire rigging.

Taiji wows with variety

Then there are the tai chi masters like Ma Jianchao, Zhang Pu, Weizheng and Xiling who perform authentic tai chi moves. The grandmaster himself, He Junlong, makes an appearance in the finale, in a condensed routine of all eight of the essential tai chi movements with a voiceover explanation.

For the non-converted, this taut but mesmerizing show does not make tai chi less esoteric, but rather more visually appealing.

Concepts such as life, time and energy are difficult to illustrate with performing arts without the complexities of characters and story lines, and Taiji has done a pretty good job in uncovering the special world of Chinese philosophy with its balance of the body and the mind. It is definitely a holistic approach, with "nine feats" as can't-believe-my-eyes moments of wonder and the multimedia projection and sound effects supplying the ambience for magic.

Taiji is jointly produced by China International Culture & Arts Company and China Feat Art Troupe. Its directors Xiao Xiangrong and Sakya Dorjee are immersed in variety shows for the stage.

The tour will continue to Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Taiyuan, Guiyang and other cities.

Contact the writer at raymondzhou@chinadaily.com.cn.

(China Daily 10/18/2013 page18)