The demise of Archaos hasn't meant the death of unconventional circus. Having evolved over 2000 years along lines distinct from western circus, the Chinese variety shows some coincidental kinship: clowns perform a plate-spinning act, a wire-walker hops nonchalantly across while musicians play a cheeky Viennese waltz parody. But its own character is some way from circus as we know and are bored by it. Many of the props here are everyday objects: the enamel dishes which a woman kicks into a stack balanced on her head – while riding a seven-foot unicycle atop a five-foot ball – or the uncanny 25-foot pyramid of chairs perched on each other by their rear legs only, while a troupe of balancers turn seven-decker handstands on the chairs' backs.
Some acts in the programme have been omitted (perhaps because the big top isn't big enough), but what with the tumblers diving four at a time through a tower of hoops, juggling enormous spinning bolas, balancing a 20-foot pole-cum-banner (one performer kicks it onto his partner's head, still balanced, then heads it onto the other's coccyx), and of course the legendary Lion Dance – much more comical, sensual and affecting when seen in the, erhm, fur – there's more than enough here to keep anyone entranced for two hours.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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