“China Soul”turns bodies into moving celebrations

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“China Soul”turns bodies into moving celebrations

“China Soul” unfolds like a child’s nighttime hallucinations. But instead of dreams of sugar plum fairies and mouse kings, martial artists burst onto the scene, followed by Pekinese dogs and ladies-in-waiting, giving offerings to gods. The narrative, as told by the Chinese National Acrobatic Troupe, unfolds with the explosiveness of a performance by Cirque du Soleil.
When “China Soul” opened in Korea on July 25, it garnered a standing ovation. The troupe’s feats, which can be seen through Aug. 10 at the COEX auditorium in southern Seoul, commemorate 10 years of diplomatic relations between Korea and China.
A stream of strange images, connected only loosely, create a narrative of China’s rich history. The Forbidden City and the Great Wall serve as backgrounds for spellbinding acrobatics. The colors are brilliant, the action spectacular.
In each act, every hesitation, every tremble of the body, is visible. But instead of detracting from the performance, the imperfections create an overwhelming sense of initial insecurity and then wonderous amazement when each rigor is accomplished. “China Soul” is a celebration of the human body ― its limits and its startling capabilities.
The performance opens with the sound of a heartbeat. Red and dark purple lights illuminate two people in a transparent balloon, floating in midair. The balloon gently lowers to the ground, as the two dancers gracefully hold poses that define the beauty of the body’s lines.
After that simple and dreamlike beginning, a battalion of men appears. Together, they create situations of balance and poise that would strike envy in a Hong Kong martial arts star. In one, a man balances on a tilted chair; another climbs up a pole, and balances on a chair placed atop the first. Yet another ascends and balances on a third chair. In the end, six men are balancing on seven chairs, each tilted on top of the other. One by one, the men lift their legs up in a handstand, and pause. Then, one by one, they tumble gracefully down.
From men bounding through hoops to women balancing plates on sticks to aerial stunts on poles, the drama never lets up. For comic relief, there’s even shadow puppetry and a segment in which the Pekinese dogs perform a parody of a dragon dance.
The costumes are showy, at times tending toward the gaudy, almost taking priority over the body in some instances. But then, the entire production is flamboyant and dramatic.
Established in 1950 by the late Zhou Enlai, former foreign minister of China, the Chinese National Acrobatic Troupe has toured more than 80 countries. It is the largest performance group in China. Now that the troupe has added an acrobatics training school, its ranks have swelled to more than 1,000 members. About 200 people, including performers and stage crew, are in Korea.
Since the 1990s, the troupe has executed eight gala performances. “Chinese Soul,” developed in 1998, won seven awards in the Beijing New Drama and Program Competition.

by Joe Yong-hee

Tickets are 39,000 won ($33) to 79,000 won. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. For information, call (02) 3473-6114.
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