Review: Chinese New Year Extravaganza, Hazlitt Theatre Maidstone, by Anna Morell

Chinese New Year Extravaganza

Happy new year! With at least another month of winter still to go, it makes perfect sense to start this month as we started the last – with any excuse for a celebration. A billion people can’t be wrong, so we’ve always made it a tradition in our house to welcome in Chinese New Year with a good dinner and a bit of a dragon dance.

Jin Long Wushu Academy’s annual extravaganza is a circus-based variety show featuring some impressive acrobatics. If you’ve ever wanted to see a woman balancing on nothing but her mouth, or maybe sitting on the flat of her neck, face grinning at an auditorium full of dropped jaws, legs bent over her head, toes pointing out to the audience, this is the show for you. The troupe literally bend over backwards for your pleasure.

There are ridiculous feats of strength – duos simultaneously planking on each other, balancing on one pair of legs between them. Triple to sextuple towers of people, some upright, some upside down, tumbling and hanging off each other with the ease of monkeys, sometimes while juggling or spinning eight plates a piece.

There is a dash of martial artistry, some (unusually) funny clown and panda skits, pretty dances with cascades of rainbow ribbons and a strong, jaw-dropping lion dance, a tradition which puts our lumbering pantomime cows to shame, as both pairs of legs work acrobatic miracles inside the golden fuzz and giant papier mache head of the costume.

Somewhat more unusual for Western audiences are a wonderful folk peacock routine from the Dai people of the Yunnan region in which the dancer’s hands mimic beak and head feathers, and then wings, before her billowing dress becomes an intense plumage display, and most impressive of all, a performance of Bian Lian – blink-of-an-eye mask changing from the Sichuan opera – seven changes in all, imperceptible even up close – and the performer comes out into the audience to prove it.

It’s a great family show. My child described it as ‘incredible, amazing, astounding and astonishing’. The constant whoops, cheers and woahs of her peers back her up.

The Chinese New Year Extravaganza is at the Hazlitt Theatre Maidstone at 7pm on Sunday 4 February or Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall Theatre on Tuesday 6 February 2018.