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CHINESE ACROBATIC SWAN LAKE.
THE LOWRY THEATRE, MANCHESTER.
It has to be admitted, we were not quite sure what to expect in going to see the Chinese Acrobatic Swan Lake. After all, Chinese acrobatics and Swan Lake, one of the more classical ballets, have an oxymoronic flavour when put together. However, we were in for an outstanding evening of entertainment. Think more Cirque-du-Soleil than the Moscow State Ballet. Fans of classical ballet may well take exception to the storyline, which is only loosely related to the original, but in our opinion this was more than compensated for by the marvellous costumes and incredible acrobatic stunts.
The opening of the show with a large, boat-sized plastic swan gliding across the stage was not a promising start. The glossy programme informed us that the beautiful girl wandering by the lake is captured by an eagle who casts an evil spell on her, transforming her into a Swan Princess. In the next scene we see the Prince who has a vision of the Swan Princess and her misfortune in a dream and vows to travel across the world in order to search for her. This journey across the world represents an opportunity for stunning acrobatic feats: pole climbing, rolling wheels, juggling, and trapeze artistes performed in glorious, technicolour set pieces (although there is a rather dodgy camel in the background of one piece). The tradition of Chinese acrobatic acts, according to the programme, is that the music follows the stunt. Acrobatic Swan Lake however is set to Tchaikovsky's music and must match itself to Tchaikovsky's rhythms and melodies. Thus the acrobatic movements were re-designed to fit the music, posing difficult challenges for the performers and something totally original for the audience.
The show's star attractions were undoubtedly the husband and wife team Wei Baohua, playing the Prince, and Wu Zhengdan, playing the Swan Princess. As part of their amazing, balletic, acrobatic routine Wu Zhengdan pirouettes on her pointes balancing alternately on her husband's outstretched arm or on the top of his head! This is surely taking ‘to have and to hold’ to a whole new level!
The show was punctuated by comedy moments too, including four of the Prince's male attendants dressed in tutus, and our favourite, the Swan Lake's signature quartet of female swans replaced by a cheeky comic routine with four male hand-balancing frogs. The Prince is lured to the evil Black Eagle's cave, which provides another opportunity for amazing acrobatic set pieces, including trampolines, unicycles, ball tricks, and astounding, surely physically impossible, wince-inducing acts of contortion. Finally, the Prince and the Swan Princess are reunited, the evil Black Eagle is vanquished and, unlike Swan Lake the ballet, everyone lives happily ever after, culminating in a colourful wedding scene in the best fairytale tradition. As a family show with wide appeal, this is to be recommended, but perhaps not for classical purists.