"Cirque Shanghai: Dragon’s Thunder"
by Michael Horn

★★★★★ Wow! What an amazing show! I have not been a viewer of all the previous summer productions of Cirque Shanghai at Navy Pier, but based on the newest production, “Dragon’s Thunder”, I will be a regular for years to come. Unlike a lot of “Cirque” shows, this is more spectacle than story which means that the audience doesn’t have to deal with lame story-lines, just solid performances. Tumbling,juggling,Balancing and more, jaw dropping acts.

I was in awe as the troupe performed one amazing feat after another. The audience was fixated by the beauty,energy and physicality displayed by this troupe, keeping them on the edge of their seats from start to finish. I loved the “Chinese Flex Bar” as the tumblers did incredible somersaults and twists landing on a space that did not seem possible to land on. The “Gravity Swings” took your breath away and the “Wheel of Destiny” makes your hear beat as the performers flirted with disaster.

“The Globe of Death” is by far the largest number in this show as we watch, not four ( the usual number) but five motorcycles twist and turn at speeds that are unbelievable , coming within inches of each other. This is the highlight of the show for almost everyone in attendance, but it is agreed, as special as this one act is, the entire production is a theatrical experience that a family can enjoy and retain as a solid memory of their experience in Chicago. For those of you who enjoy the Silks, contortionists and other acts, you will find that all of the numbers are not thrillers, The Chinese Drums ( for the first time in a Chicago production) adding rhythm that energizes the performance.  There are comic numbers as well making this a well rounded attraction for people of all ages and ethnicity’s to enjoy.     

The “Pepsi Skyline Stage” is a permanent structure at Chicago’s Navy Pier, located just West of The Shakespeare Theatre and because of the construction, weather never is involved- rain or shine, the show goes on, and it does so through September 2nd with many performances per day- Wednesday and Saturday nights, Fireworks at Navy Pier, allows you to view the show, walk back onto the Pier and watch the spectacular displays ( no extra charge).

To get complete schedule and ticket prices, visist www.ticketmaster.com.shanghai or www.navypier.com/cirqueshanghai/schedule.html

75 minutes of family fun awaits you at Chicago’s Navy Pier

'Cirque Shanghai' shows China's changing culture
by Chris Jones

So here's an indication of how far China has come: The last motorcycle rider in the Globe of Death in this year's "Cirque Shanghai" on Navy Pier is a woman. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has had more riders — we Globe of Death fans like to see at least seven, and I've seen eight cheating mortality — but, in this macho business, they're all usually dudes.

You would have not seen a woman undoing her helmet and letting her locks flow when this Chinese circus show first played Navy Pier eight years ago. Nor would you have seen the decidedly sensual Pas de Deux Contortion that's a striking part of this year's show. It's still appropriate for a family attraction in the outdoor Skyline Stage (the male and female duet is not that steamy), but for we students of the changing nature of Chinese entertainment, it's still a sea change from the asexual tone of the early resident shows that came to the USA to showcase the traditional circus and gymnastic skills taught in China for generations.

I've seen seven of the eight years' worth of "Cirque Shanghai" presentations (I took last year off; as with Scrooge and Tiny Tim, sometimes you need a break from young people jumping through hoops, especially when those hoops crop up at other times of the year). They've all been decent summer shows that are among the classier offerings at this, mercifully, soon-to-be-improved tourist magnet that does yet show this city at its best. But taking the years as a whole, you really can see some changes therein that reflect the loosening up of China. I speak of the cultural exports of the nation. These remarkable athletes always have been plenty flexible.

The shows have become more contemporary: This year, many in the cast of 36 in "Dragon's Thunder" are exuberant individual performers who are far removed from the more regimented company that played the pier in 2006-2008 or so. I suspect Miao Miao Chen, a former performer herself, who took over directing this show in 2009, has been a factor there. The young people who make up this company are now allowed so much more freedom to be themselves.

That means the comedy is better (there's a stellar routine involving a fellow catching things on his head) and the daredevils jumping around the Wheel of Destiny (one of them donning a blindfold) are all the more exuberant. Chinese performers in these traditional circuses never used to fake anything, that being a violation of the classic dignity of the time-honored routines. Now they goof with the audience all the time, and the guys are all sporting mohawk hairdos, replete with tufts of varying colors. The times, they have a-changed.

Paradoxically, this new personality means that the old disciplines can be better honored, and Cirque Shanghai remains mostly composed of these routines: the Chinese Flex Bar, the Silks et al. All are executed very well: The flex bar is always one of my favorites, especially when stilts are added into the bouncy mix. This year's show also adds traditional Chinese drumming — Mulan's Dragon Drums, the act is called, with an eye toward branding — which is not something one usually sees in these shows found mostly in the likes of Branson, Mo., Orlando, Fla., and, of course, Navy Pier.

At the end of the matinee Wednesday, the youngsters (and they are mostly, but not all, youngsters) ran out into the house at the end of the show, right into a group of wildly admiring Chicago Public Schools students offering them high-fives. It was a small moment, perhaps, in Chicago's long, tortured attempts to welcome more international youth, artists and visitors, but it put a lump in my throat.

nothing short of magical
by Andy Argyrakis

With a wealth of Cirque-styled entertainment acts on the road, it isn't always easy to tell the difference between a high quality show and a cheap knockoff. But in the case of Cirque Shanghai, the veteran troupe has already proven itself across three seasons at Pepsi Skyline Stage on the campus of Navy Pier, being dubbed by both locals and tourists as "Chicago's Summer Circus."

Come 2009, the program has been changed and re-introduced as "Cirque Shanghai: Bright Spirit," which once again features jaw dropping acrobatics, but perhaps the most ambitious series of stunts, costumes and chorography for the company to date. Under the direction of Haiping Ge (a graduate of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and Shanghai Opera Institute veteran), the program is ripe with stunts of physical prowess and an ambiguous (but still entertaining) storyline about inner discovery.

Take for instance the "Welcome Spirit" opening, a flurry of body twirls, dress swirls and airborne introductions. From there, the program was filled with colorful contortionists, hair raising hoop divers, bizarre ball juggling and synchronized plate spinning. Though not nearly as death defying, a section called "Hat Juggling" was amongst the most awe-inspiring where performers switched caps at lightening speed in between back flips.

The same could be said about "Team Jump Rope," a hip-hop interlude loaded with dancers diving in and out of a rapidly spinning cable. However, the most visually arresting moment was the seesaw/catapult contraption that propelled acrobatics high above the stage with their bodies landing on the feet of an incredibly muscular man with his back arched against a bench.

Along the way, there's plenty of heart-pounding music, which wouldn't exactly be worthy of purchasing a soundtrack, but certainly augments the show with excitement and intrigue. Ranging between pulsating instrumental pop to indigenous instrumentation of mystical proportions, there's plenty to devour in this well rounded sensory experience. 

The Summertime Superstars
of the Lake Shore

By Venus Zarris

Once again, Cirque Shanghai turns the Skyline Stage at Navy Pier into place for dazzling spectacle and charm. Once again, the incomparable performers of this delightful extravaganza become the Summertime Superstars of the Lake Shore, but there is nothing repetitive about this year’s Cirque Shanghai: Cloud Nine production; except for the thrills that it delivers.

It is hard to image based on last year’s fantastically entertaining offering, but Cirque Shanghai: Cloud Nine ramps itself up to be even more magical! Every year the production values get better and this year the colorful costumes, marvelous music and playful choreography in Cirque Shanghai: Cloud Nine set new standards of excellence for an already excellent show. This is quite simply family fun and entertainment at its finest!

Stepping away from the passionate praise that probably reads like a ringmaster’s hyperbole or a press release from the producers, (which it is niether) Cirque Shanghai: Cloud Nine represents an experience that is unique in ways other than its entertainment value. Cirque Shanghai is an example of the performing art’s ability to create bridges between cultures. No, this is not a realistic example of the people living in China. But it establishes an endearing connection to some of China’s young and profoundly gifted talent. It is hard to imagine without seeing for yourself, but the sincerity and warmth of these extraordinary performers actually eclipses the remarkable acrobatic feats they so stunningly perform. There is no pretense. There is no bravado. There is earnest effort and world-class ability polished to a stunning shine and delivered with childlike enthusiasm. They are good will ambassadors not only of China, but also of good will itself.

The audible reactions from the crowd go beyond simply clapping or cheering. The young woman sitting next could be heard repeating throughout the entire show, “Oh My God! It’s so good!”

It is easy to get so caught up in the unmitigated charm of the performers that you find yourself actually waving at them. When I saw other audience members waving as well, I felt good that it wasn’t just me!

This profoundly gifted company not only performs miraculous stunts, but they also create magic.

There is no better value for genuine family fun in the city. See Cirque Shanghai: Cloud Nine on a Wednesday or Saturday night and enjoy the fireworks after the show! Do not miss this remarkable, breathtaking, awe-inspiring and completely endearing Chicago exclusive.

Rating: ★★★

Amazing to the extreme!
by Katy Walsh

Gliding through the air, plummeting from the ceiling, parading through the audience… and that’s just within the first few minutes! Navy Pier, in conjunction with International Special Attractions, Ltd., presents the world premiere production of Cirque Shangai Extreme. About two dozen performers join forces to create a vibrant spectacle. They begin and end the show with a dazzling procession clad in shiny oriental style costumes. In between, they defy gravity, logic and death in stunts that mystify. Special delivery from China, Cirque Shanghai Extreme amazes with flashy, mega extraordinary feats.

Extreme is the word to describe this show! Each act already stuns for its sheer physicality, and then Cirque Shanghaiadds another element. Over the top to the extreme! Instead of 1 acrobat balanced perpendicular to 1 pole, there are 3 men on 3 poles. Astonishing times nine! A guy balancing a free-standing ladder has another guy standing on his shoulders and a gal standing on that guy’s shoulders. But that’s not enough, Cirque Shanghai has two more gals dangling from the middle guy. WOW! The best example of acts Shanghai-ed to the extreme is “Imperial Thunder.” In a large metal ball, a motorcyclist loops sideways and upside-down. It’s cool! Then, they add a second biker. It’s crazy watching them race around this containment without killing each other. Then, they add a third biker. Next to me, my friend blurts out, “shut-up!” It’s heart-pounding madness! Then, they add a fourth biker. The visual becomes a magical blur reminiscent to a Harry Potter quibbage match. It’s pure wizardry!

The show, directed by Miao Miao Chen, is quick-paced. Chen rapid-fires the entertainment. It’s tight and fast-flowing. The variety and number of acts is impressive. Always a favorite for me is the enchantment of aerial silks. The performer suspends upside-down from another performer dangling by her ankle looped in a piece of flimsy fabric. The effortless movement is always gorgeous and the idea is mind-blowing. The contrast transfixes me. A juggling hat number goes interactive with audience recruits. It adds slapstick fun to the show. Following the amateur buffoonery, the troupe creates a bigger hat trick illusion.

Rating: ★★★½

a heart-pounding thrill sensation

Edge-of-your-seat entertainment doesn’t come around often enough these days.

The world of stage shows with death-defying feats, and not a net to be seen anywhere, doesn’t exist in this day and age, with the exception of the thrill-a-minute acrobatic antics of the Cirque Shanghai performers.
Now, a welcomed summer stage-staple at Chicago’s Navy Pier on the Pepsi Skyline Stage, for 2011, this talented group of agile, athletes are back in the Windy City with a beautiful and thrilling show priced not to break the bank. Now through Sept. 5, “Cirque Shanghai Extreme” offers 90-minutes of pure energy and excitement without even an intermission.

All of the performers are from China and leaders in their crafts and abilities, ranging from acrobatics, tumbling and juggling to balancing, dance and aerial students that range from balancing motorcycles on tightropes to the always thrilling “cage-like globe” boasting multiple motorcyclists inside darting at full-speed.

Directed by Miao Miao Chen and choreographed by Chicago’s own Brenda Didier, this is a show that could easily offer a “money-back guarantee” for any audience member not mesmerized by what unfolds before the eyes, and still never have to worry about paying out one single cent in refunds.

Performed rain or shine in this comfortable 1,500-seat, canopied, open-air theater space along Navy Pier, I’ve never seen a troupe of artists and performers work harder and beam brighter with pride than the members of Cirque Shanghai each year.

Though much of the attention is usually given to the “Imperial Thunder” motorcyclists in each year’s finale, all 15 acts featured have a shared role in the fine entertainment experience provided to appeal to audience members of every age.

This year, I was particularly pleased and impressed with a roller skating duo and trio of barrel contortionists.

Adding to the exotic atmosphere of wonder and excitement are some of the most breath-taking costumes imaginable, from winking Chinese dragons who lumber along the audience aisle ways to elegant, flowing silk creations that capture enlightenment on every level of the senses.


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