Last night we all went to Darlington’s Civic theatre to watch what was the most amazing, awe-inspiring display of skill, strength and ability we’ve seen this year. In the year of the London Olympics, it seemed very fitting that we witnessed just what the human body is capable of – if China were to send along the cast of Cirque du Ciel to represent them in the gymnastic events then they would walk away with every gold.
Opening to a video travelogue of China and all it’s different cultures, cities and landmarks, the viewer is then transported into the bedroom of girl, Yan Yang, asleep in her bed. As she ‘awakes’ she finds that her toys have taken on a life of their own. Two mysterious spirit-like figures, representing the sun and moon, introduce her to a frenzy of acrobatic activity, which comes to life with the opening of her music box. The magic of the spirits brings Yan Yang’s dream to life as she twirls and contorts her body as if she was made of air.
What follows is part Alice in Wonderland and part The Matrix as the cast take over and perform routines of such strength, balance and dexterity that sometimes it looked almost impossible – but it wasn’t; there was no trick photography here, no “Bullet-Time” videoing, just skill, beautiful choreography and the human body.
Performing acts which blended modern dance, martial arts, gymnastics and traditional Chinese culture, the cast transformed the stage into an arena which felt twice the size. Darlington doesn’t have the largest stage so it was doubly amazing to see the speed and distances that these performers covered and yet stop with perfect accuracy so as not to run out of room. My favourite, if forced to choose, would have to be the Chinese Monkey Poles; the speed and dexterity with pin point accuracy was simply outstanding.
There are some very strong characters in the team, and although they clearly have to work together, there were always little frissons of showmanship where one would try to out-do the others in speed, height, number of tumbles etc. They really looked like they were enjoying what they were doing and honestly wanted us to enjoy it too, and we did.
All played to a wonderfully evocative soundtrack and driven by an onstage drummer, the cast deliver such a mesmerising performance that at times it was hard not to clap at everything they did.
Before the Olympics begin, before you get lost in the regimented & controlled displays of gymnasts having to make sure they include the exact number of leaps & tumbles, go and see this show – this has all the technical ability and super-human skill but done with freedom, expression and, well, fun, that it leaves you breathless, exhilarated and wishing you had brought more friends to enjoy it with you.
Cirque du Ciel – Shanghai Nights is on at Darlington Civic on Friday 1st & Saturday 2nd June – tickets still available.