December in New York is a great time of year for kids' shows, and the New Victory Theater has slotted an excitingly unique production to occupy its stage through January 4 — the Chinese circus Cirque Zíva. No, it's got nothing to do with Grinches or grumpy misers, but parents couldn't ask for a better production if they want to change up their kids' diet of holiday entertainment and inject some nontraditional theater into the season.
Families who have never attended a Chinese circus before (this show is appropriate for all ages, but kids five and up will probably enjoy it most) might be surprised that Cirque Zíva doesn't have any animals or clowns. Instead, dozens of incredibly agile, highly skilled acrobats take the stage and dazzle audiences in one gasp-inducing act after another.
The 22 performers of this troupe, most of whom hail from China's Hebei Province, possess skills to make jaws drop. Acts include mind-bending feats of contortion, such as Ping Gao's extraordinary ability to twist her body in seemingly any direction while balancing towers of glasses on her feet, hands, and head. The show really revs up with acts like "Spinning Wheels," in which several performers ride onto the stage inside large metal rings and spin themselves like human gyroscopes.
Each act flows into the next almost without interruption as acrobats leap onto and off of the stage at a frenetic pace. Though the circus is two hours long with one intermission, the nonstop performances make the time fly.
It's almost impossible to look away when the petite Ya Nan Hou lies on her back while she juggles a large table at breakneck speed with her feet, or when Hui Yuan Zhu, who builds a tower of chairs high above the stage, seems to make himself fly as he balances on the top chair with one arm.
A huge friendly puppet lion (two performers inside a colorful costume) also puts in an appearance, winking at the audience and making faces at the kids as their little eyes go wide with awe.
This is not to say that the show is merely a series of stunts. The design team has made Cirque Zíva into a beautiful, aesthetically satisfying experience. Artistic director Danny Chang infuses the show with a mesmerizing elegance in "Thousand Hands," in which several female performers become a golden fingered being, and "Bicycle Family," with its gorgeous finale of 10 people who open Chinese fans while riding on one bike.
Li Guo Wang's coaching is evident in the precision and grace of these acrobats, and Angela Chang's eye-catching costumes add to the magic. Chang also choreographed the show, lending as much excitement to what the performers do as to what they wear. Gregory A. Kouvolo's vibrant lighting lends yet another visual layer to the performances, making the stage explode with color.
As parents make plans for the time-honored holiday shows, they may want to consider taking the kids to see a production that might not be as traditional, but that will be just as (if not even more) memorable.
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