Review: Cirque Shanghai: Cloud 9 (at Navy Pier)

A thrilling summer show for the entire family

 

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Cirque Shangha
i and Navy Pier present
  
Cirque Shanghai: Cloud 9
  
Directed by Miao Miao Chen
at the Skyline Stage, Navy Pier (map)
thru September 6th  |  tickets: $12-$29  |  more info

reviewed by Catey Sullivan

Never mind the official calendar. If Cirque Shanghai is in residence on Navy Pier, it must be summer in the city. In residence under the armadillo-shaped tent that is the Pier’s Skyline Stage, the Chinese import is back with its roster of spectacular  human oddities and jaw-dropping feats of strength, balance and grace. Think Cirque du Soleil, minus the artsy existential clowning and plus motorcycle stunt drivers. That’s the general aesthetic that informs Cirque Shanghai: Cloud 9.

Cirque-Shanghai-Cloud-Nine001 The new show brings new acts to the stage, chief among them those motorcycles. During the kinetic Imperial Thunder, a quartet of roaring bikes and their color-coordinated riders zip around like bees inside of a metal dome that you’d swear wasn’t large enough to accommodate even one rider let alone four. Inside the Imperial Thunder dome, the riders make it look easy, flying over and around each other in a display of centrifugal force and precision racing that’s a genuine jaw-dropper. On the other end of the spectrum? The contemplative Thousand Hand Guan Yin,  a golden-tinged illustration of a goddess with – yes – a thousand hands.

Those two acts illustrate the extremes of Cloud 9, the creation of Sylvia Hase with director Miao Miao Chen and Chicago-based choreographer Brenda Didier.  Whichever performance style you prefer – ear-drum rattling roars and performers in full-body whirl at break-neck pace or new-agey strings serenely accompanying hand-dancers creating illusions with the most delicate movements of their fingertips – Cirque Shanghai delivers plenty of it.

Performed by a troupe of elite circus performers aged 15 to 25, the show is pure eye candy. There’s no subtext to contortionism, nothing to deconstruct in a display of hat juggling. That’s absolutely fine. Cloud 9 is a seasonally appropriate wonder, entertainment that screams “leave your thinking caps at home, school’s out for the summer!”

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That’s not to say that the 18 acts within the production are anything less than top tier. Try not to ooh and aah at the Suspended Pole Acrobats as they leap, two stories up, between perilously swaying stalks. Ditto the gleefully silly  Bicycle Platform Balance, where in nine grinning cyclists form a pedaling human pyramid atop a single bicycle. There are also strong men, hoop divers and aerial artists whose skill spinning on silks evokes acrobatic spiders flying between web strands.

The look of the production is as marvelously over-the-top as the acts. Think Liberace meets Bob Mackie meets a Bedazzler set on stun and you get a sense of the show’s visual appeal. Cirque Shanghai: Cloud 9 might not ponder the depths of the human condition, but for pure fun, it’s tough to beat.

      
     
Rating: ★★★½
   
  

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Review: Cirque Shanghai – Bright Spirit

Disparate acts gracefully knitted together create a lovely distraction. 

 

Cirque Shanghai: Bright Spirit
Navy Pier, running through September 7th. (buy tickets here)

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

The outfits evoke a Bedazzler-run-amok in Siegfried and Roy’s costume shop. The lighting is pure glitter gulch. And the acts? Picture Liberace’s long-lost Shanghai-born twin falling into a giant sloshing bucket of Cirque de Soleil and emerging with a show for audiences more accustomed to Vegas-style MTV smash cuts than the studied elegance of those artsy-fartsy French Canadians.

Cirque Shanghai_379 This is the wonderful world of Cirque Shanghai: Bright Spirit (buy tickets here), running in the Armadillo – whoops, the Skyline Stage – on Navy Pier through September 7th. The 90-minute production is a variety show on steroids – but if steroids were a good thing. Which is to say, Bright Spirit is a hopped up, mega-amplified celebration of some of the most garishly useless and entertaining skills around: Hoop divers, plate spinners, chair climbers (!), hat jugglers (!!) and unitard-clad creatures in inner tubes bouncing and rolling in ways that seem to defy more than a few fundamental laws of physics. For summer time guilty pleasures, Bright Spirit is up there with State Fair Fried Twinkies and snickering Oak Street beach’s endless preening spandex parade.

Directed by Naperville-native Dwight Jordan and choreographed by Lincolnshire native Brenda Didier, Bright Spirit – like all the Cirque Shanghai productions – is the brain child of Mike Wilson. The son of travelling magicians, Wilson followed his parents throughout China as a child, picking up a lifelong fascination with Chinese acrobatics, dance and folklore along the way. In 1990, he started bringing Chinese performers to the U.S., envisioning a sort of cross-cultural pollination between traditional Chinese art forms and high-tech Western production values. Almost 20 years later, Cirque Shanghai is the elaborate culmination of that vision. And in Navy Pier – a venue where one can find just about everything but beat baiting (though there’s lots of cotton candy for just such a purpose) – Wilson has a venue that perfectly complements Cirque Shanghai’s hybrid of populist thrill-o-rama stunts and ancient Eastern art forms.

Cirque Shanghai - Bright Spirit, now playing at Navy Pier through September 7th.

Now in its fourth season on the Pier, Cirque Shanghai has been polished and tweaked since it initially arrived, but the core showstoppers remain intact, a splendid display of spectacularly worthless skills resplendently presented.

Plate spinners turn the stage into a dizzying, dazzling pond filled with hundreds of rapidly orbiting lily pads set twirling by elite-level gymnasts. In an inexplicable (yet laugh-out-loud amusing) non-sequitor of sorts, a giant day-glo caterpillar that looks for all the world like an outtake from “James and the Giant Peach” makes his undulating way across the stage toward the dinnerware finale.

Cirque Shanghai, now playing at Navy Pier, runs through September 7th Also nifty: The Russian barre, wherein acrobats make the likes of Nastia Luikin look like a piker as they flip and whirl on a balance beam that seems to be made out of a giant foam noodle.

We’ve long fancied ourselves a connoisseur of contortionists, and the seemingly boneless wonders here do not disappoint offering a gallery of body positions that, when one stops to think about it, are simply not possible.

And only at Cirque Shanghai can you catch the “bumble bee diabolo” – wherein manically smiling young ladies propel a cross between nunchucks, windmill propellers and giant yoyos in an act that perfectly captures the timeless sentiment “you’re gonna put somebody’s eye out with that thing.”

With such disparate acts gracefully knitted together by Didier’s apt choreography, Bright Spirit is a lovely distraction. Save the Serious Art for fall. Now is the summer of our deep content with the likes of plate spinners.

Rating: ««½

‘CIRQUE SHANGHAI: GOLD’
When: Through Sept. 1 (12 shows a week, including most afternoons)
Where: Pepsi Skyline Stage, Navy Pier
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Tickets: $14.50-$29.50 at 312-902-1500

View Cirque Shanghai - Bright Spirit

Various “Cirque” Reviews:

  • Chicago Tribune’s review. (“Cirque Shanghai leaves crowd cheering)
  • Sun-Times’ review. (…modestly-staged acrobatics are generally neat.)
  • BroadwayWorld.com’s review. (…a soaring celebration of life appearing only in Chicago)

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See the entire Cirque Shanghai photo album here.