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ERA
By Jul 28, 2008 Stage


SmartShanghai sent me to report on ERA: Intersection of Time, the multi-million dollar circus/acrobat gala at Shanghai Circus World because we've just launched our ticketing website and you should buy tickets for the show HERE. Before you get your panties in a wad about reading advertorial let me disclaim - I was under explicit instructions from a certain British bulldog gallivanting around my office: "If it's bad, just don't write anything." So there you go.

It is a unique blend of egomania and ennui that inspired man to see how small of a plastic hoop he could catapult his body through. "Hoop Diving," however, and other stunts like "Spinning Plates" and "Bowl Balancing" appear to withstand the test of time, generating guttural exclamations from audiences since pre-Christian era.

Literally. Chinese Variety Art is a 2000-plus year old phenomenon.

However, ERA: Intersection of Time, which kicked off in 2005 and is slated to perform every single day (at least) until the donouement of that other circus, the 2010 Expo, explodes the Chinese Acrobat genre. Whereas Chinese acrobat shows are normally a series of unrelated acts, designed to awe but not necessarily cohere, ERA is a full two-act performance with a thin, but nevertheless existing storyline. This thunderous amalgam of live music, acrobatics and theatrics, infused with all the modern technology a couple million USD can buy is threaded together by a shimmering love story and blatant thematic nods to the momentum generating city of frenzy, Shanghai.

Although conceived by China Performing Arts Agency and Shanghai Media World, ERA is directed and choreographed by Canadians Erick Villeneuve and Debra Brown (respectively), both of Cirque du Soleil fame.
Bringing in the experienced hands is a savvy move. Although the Canadians' influence is apparent - at times overriding the "traditional" - it has guided the show into a certain caliber absent elsewhere in Shanghai.

Housed in an Epcot Center-styled white golf ball, the full-scale arena is a grandiose celebration of the 21st century with its revolving stage, computer controlled lighting, mirrored cage and water curtain. Softening the high-tech gismos, the stage backdrop pays homage to old Chinese villas and winding longtang alleyways. Similarly styled compartments on either side of center stage accommodate live musicians, who support the performers throughout the show with acoustics ranging from classical Chinese wind to bass heavy "dance" sets.

Shaolin monk acts in authentic costume balancing porcelain vases alternate with high-speed, crowd-pleasing motorcyclists careening through arena aisles. ERA's concerted effort to strike a balance between high and low pace is much appreciated as such tempo is often lacking in Variety Art, but the one-for-one switch between soft and sweet to harsh and loud eventually becomes predictable.

The futuristic finale "Space Motorcycles" is a is a Vegas-style, gasp-inducing daredevil performance by six men and two women (teenagers) who whirl about a spherical cage at velocities that cannot be legal. In fact, at multiple junctures during the show I was forced to contemplate the safety standards in place.

ERA is a popular although never sold-out production, attended by locals, expats, and tourists alike. Mementos and souvenirs of the show are highly available inside, including everything from the standard ERA t-shirt to heavy gold and silver-plated chains. Gimmickry aside, the show was an unexpected success, and delivered high octane doses of that by-now traditional Shanghai theme: the collusion of past and future, old and new, east and west.

Again, I must emphasize, the above accolades are in no way linked to the fact that SmartShanghai shall expeditiously hand-deliver tickets to your person should you be so inclined as to click HERE.

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