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Daring and dazzling, ‘Dragon’ is sign of a fiery show

‘CIRQUE SHANGHAI: YEAR OF THE DRAGON’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

◆ Through Sept. 3

◆ Navy Pier’s Skyline Stage, 600 E. Grand

◆ Tickets, $15.50-$29.50

◆ (800) 745-3000;
www.ticketmaster.com/shanghai

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Updated: August 23, 2012 9:52AM



Consult a Chinese zodiac chart and you will learn that the dragon symbolizes strength, health, harmony and intelligence, and that those born under the sign tend to be vigorous, strong, self-confident, eccentric, fiery, intellectual, artistic, charismatic and gifted with great powers.

Catch “Year of the Dragon,” the latest edition of Cirque Shanghai — the spectacle that has become a reliable rite of summer at Navy Pier’s open-air Skyline Stage (even if nighttime temperatures can feel downright wintry) — and you will find a rapid-fire 75-minute show that lives up to its astrological sign. In many ways this is the strongest production to arrive within the confines of the brilliant red and gold entry gate that frames the proscenium stage.

Directed with speed and polish by Miao Miao Chen, the current show features a greater than usual number of top-notch acts, many of them helmed by female performers. And overall, the cast of young performers seems more relaxed and playful than in seasons past. As usual, the occasional flub is easily tossed off, with the performers invariably bouncing back in top form. The overall look of the show — from lavish costume design, to lighting, to the fluidity of the score — also seems enhanced.

The Foot Juggling routine finds a gaggle of girls juggling multiple, volleyball-size balls with their hands and feet — swiftly passing them, and depositing them into a basketball net, in a way that might give pause to the Chicago Bulls. A Group Chair Stack act features six women working in gorgeous synchrony as they perch themselves on a crazily cantilevered arrangement of silvery chairs. And the classic Big Bike act has 10 girls perched in a wild pyramid of perpetual motion on a single two-wheeler.

An ultra-hip guy in a black jester’s suit pulls off an amazingly fast Bounce Juggling display, manipulating eight handballs with such sleight of hand and eye that he almost seems mechanized. Another hipster playfully swings on the Slack Wire, adding to the challenge by juggling rings and riding a unicycle. And a beguiling smart aleck on the Rolla Bolla (a balancing board perched atop a paint can), manages to catch an entire set of nesting bowls, as well as a cup and a spoon on his head, with a little assistance from an audience volunteer.

Hoop divers (more fleet and accurate than in years past), contortionists (super-strong and flexible rather than the usual twiglike girls), an all-girl teeterboard act, and a girl on red silks also fill the bill. But it is the two final acts in the show that prove the most hair-raising.

In the terrifying Wheel of Destiny, a giant windmill-like contraption rotates at considerable speed as two certifiable madmen perform crazy stunts while power-walking in circles both within, and on the outside of the opposing wheels. This is followed by a return performance of the Globe of Death — the caged racetrack that ultimately contains five motorcyclists simultaneously zooming in high-speed circles. But it comes with an innovative touch this year since the fifth daredevil in this “Imperial Thunder” troupe is now a beautiful girl who easily holds her own with the four guys.

The grand finale brings the whole company back onstage. Be sure to pay attention to what is an almost casual walk-on turn as a girl zooms around on a unicycle atop a parasol held in mid-air.

No doubt about it, this “Dragon” breathes fire.



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