ERA: Intersection of Time is the Shanghai acrobatic show, a fail-safe go-to for entertaining guests from out of town, delighting moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, old college roommates, that-guy-you-used-to-work-with-on-an-Asia-holiday, and whoever else (even nutty aerialist in his own right, Tom Cruise is into it).
The spectacle draws on a tradition as old as aerial yoga and dirt bikes zooming around inside a steel ball, which is to say, actually not as old as you might think. Running since 2005, it’s the same today as it was then — same acts, same choreography, same costumes, same death-defying motorcycle stunt (I guess if it ain’t broke…).
SmSh checked out the show for the first time a few weeks back, and wanted to see what it's like behind the scenes. Here's a look into one of the practices at ERA: An Intersection of Time.
The Show Goes On… Constantly
Over a decade into production, ERA is a well-oiled machine, with one 100-minute show scheduled seven days a week at 7.30pm. In all there are 45 performers, some of whom perform every single night and all of whom practice every single day. Which is... just the kind of dedication you have to have to be as good at spinning plates around as they are.
The creative crux of ERA is that it pertains to offers a ‘contemporary’ twist of traditional Chinese acrobatic arts, with a healthy side of ‘Western circus arts' all inspired by the streets of Shanghai as seen by a Canadian, the original artistic director. The Intersection of Time storyline is vague but faintly echoes the classic narrative, ‘China: where new meets old.’ (Things are always meeting other things in this part of the world. Things are always intersecting). The story is a bit of fluff running as a through-thred for the acts, but the center of the show is the talent, the focus boiling down to said talent performing white-knuckle stunts.
When we went a few weeks back, just 30 seconds into the show, minds were collectively blown with a troupe of tiny girls doing handstands on bicycles — one fell (!!) and that set the tone for the rest of the show, the feeling that uh-oh... they could actually fall!. The show crescendoes in tension with audible gasps and oh no!'s from the audience.
Practice Makes Perfect
From that guy catching a 20-pound ceramic bowl on his head, to the four men jumping rope blindfolded on a human hamster wheel suspended in the air, to the women who seem like they don’t have a single bone in their body, the show’s program is a consistent mix of entertainment and anxiety, and since you can get really close you can see the performers psych themselves up.
So... who are these people? Up there risking their lives for my entertainment!
The cast is a mix of performers and aerialists, somewhere between teendom and young adulthood, most fresh graduates from acrobatic school. Walking into an ERA practice, there are about 13 people from four acts rehearsing at once: plate spinning, neon-bolas throwing, bowl catching, and trampoline jumping. Training runs every day, starting in the morning so by the time we get there at 3.30pm, these teens seem pretty over it. It's effortless, I mean they do perform every night.
They joke around with one another and it's confirmed that yes there's a handful of budding relationships in the cast. But no, the two silk trapeze artists are in fact not an item in real life.
(Yes, we're asking the important questions...)
Back to practicalities. We got up close and personal in order to crack the case on plate spinning: are the plates actually attached? It's a bit nuanced; there's a slight groove at the bottom of the plate and tape, but if not balanced it'd fall off and it's still super hard to spin (tried, failed). And they're spinning six at a time, three in one hand, and at times upside down...so they still get all the street cred.
Everything for the cast revolves around the nightly 7.30pm performance. They had to wrap up practice at 4.30pm for 'supper.'
As you can imagine digestion before showtime, major key.
Shanghai Circus World
Is your mom coming to town? Your estranged cousin? It's never too late for the ERA Experience. In all it's a 100 minute production with one 10 minute intermission, housed in the giant golf ball/modern art installation that is Shanghai Circus World. You can get there on Line 1 (Exit 3).
Prices range from 250-700rmb dependent on how close you wanna be. Tickets here.