CHINESE STATE CIRCUS
Clapham Common, London SW4
Opened 21 October, 1992

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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