Caleb Kostreva is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2016, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A public policy and civic leadership; social science (global studies emphasis) major at Howard Payne University, he is studying abroad in Shanghai this term.
In this week's post, Caleb shares his experience of attending an acrobatics show in Shanghai.
…and not go to an acrobatics show; your journey would simply be incomplete. When I was in China 12 years ago, I went to a show in Beijing, but I do not really remember much of it since I was only 7-years-old. I remember it being really cool, but I went this last week with some other students from East China Normal University (the school I’m studying at), and I left the performance completely ensorcelled by the incredible things I had just witnessed. I cannot begin to describe every performance in the space I have, so I will highlight a few of my favorites, and leave it up to you to come to China to experience the rest in person.
The performance was a series of “scenes” similar to the structure of a play, but it did not have a plot or storyline, per se. The first scene showcased something that is particularly well-known to be characteristic of China: a bicycle routine. At first, a number of young women just rode in circles doing “simple” tricks on them like standing on the front handlebars or on the seat, but then they began doubling up on the bikes, then had three on each bike, and so on until all seven girls were on one single bike riding in a circle around the central arena stage. Between the costumes and the choreography, it looked like a human flower riding in front of us.
A few acts later, another man entered onstage via another bike. However, this bike was old, and the audience could hear it squeaking as it pulled what looked like a timpani drum onstage. As soon as he stopped, the cloth covering the drum moved, and out crawled a girl, walking on her hands into the shadows of the stage. Then another. Pause… Then another. Then the man shook the drum, and another one crawled out. But they weren’t finished. Finally, one last girl crawled out, but this one hand-walked off stage instead of remaining in the shadows onstage. I am still slightly baffled how they all fit inside. The man then picked up a porcelain jar as large as his torso, threw it into the air, and caught it on his neck behind his head, using absolutely no assistance from his hands. He performed a number of tricks with the jar, some involving sheer balance, while others made the audience cringe, thinking that the jar would smash onto his head. Half of me wants to know how many concussions he sustained while practicing the tricks, and the other half of me definitely does not. After he was finished with his act, the girls who had climbed out of the drum had their turn in the limelight, making incredible contortions of their bodies, which truly challenged the limits of human capability.
The most impressive act for me is pictured below. Yes, it is basically a self-propelled ferris wheel, and no, they are not strapped in to anything. And yes, three of the boys are walking on the outside of the mini-circles. But that is not even the beginning. At different points, the boys would juggle or jump-rope, and at one point, they even put black bags over their heads and walked blind-folded. As you can imagine, the entire audience was on edge during this act, but this moment – where the boys put on blindfolds – was where the entire audience gasped, for one of the boys tripped at the top of the rotation of the wheel. I cannot say if it was rehearsed or not because of some of the other parts of the performance, but either way, I gasped with the rest of the crowd when the boy tripped, stumbled, ripped off his blindfold, then caught on to a bar and regained his balance and continued with the show. As the wheel was raised into the rafters so the next scene could begin, we all sat in amazement, with a twinge of relief, at what we had just witnessed.
Chinese people often seem to look younger than their actual age, but I have no doubts that some of the performers were very young, around 12- or 13-years-old, and they were doing some very dangerous stunts. I cannot help but wonder the ethical implications of training such young people to do such insane things with their bodies, and what impact it will have on their health both now and in the future. I realize that I can’t say a whole lot, much less with a great deal of authority as I am merely a spectator in the crowd, but I cannot help but wonder if there is more behind the gleaming lights than just rafters.
As the performers bowed at the end of the night, I was enamored at the grace, the discipline, and the skill that everyone displayed during the individual acts, but I also became extremely curious about what the activity looks like backstage, and what it looks like during rehearsals. A week after the show, I still get chills when I think about the beauty of the performance; a little part of me wishes I had half the skill that the performers possess. I was only able to describe a few of the many scenes in the performance, and every one of them pushed the limits of human ability; it leaves an impression that is not easily forgotten. In fact, this impression is so great that I cannot see how a trip to China can possibly be complete without taking the hour and a half to watch an acrobatic show.
I hope to see you at the next show!
Caleb's journey continues every Thursday so stay tuned.