Jungua: Descendents of the Dragon December 27, 2008
By Glen Creason
Oh the feeble English language and the thesaurus that has such a limited amount of terms for incredible. Astonishing, astounding, marvelous, unusual are all words that would fit in describing the show “Jungua: Descendents of the Dragon” which is purported to be reflective of ancient Chinese culture using acrobatics, contortions, traditional dance and martial arts. Certainly the physical virtues of balance, flexibility and strength are in great evidence but there is also discipline, grace and courage shown in good measure here also. To make all of it more of a spectacle there are dramatic costumes, evocative sets and music that seemed more Cirque du Soleil than Zhou dynasty. Only the music was canned and modern with the rest being inspired by traditions that go back untold generations. The show is basically split in half with the men doing the kung fu or Qigong and the women showing their own style of strength, daring and grace in the acrobatics and dance. The gents have mostly trained in Henen where the world famous Shaolin temple exists and this 1500 year old discipline makes great demands on the body, requiring complete dedication and concentration. The ladies are drawn from the Beijing Acrobatic Troupe near the Forbidden City in Beijing and they also practice arts passed on for centuries.
The program featured about twenty-five segments and each has its appeal and each challenged the viewer’s belief in the stamina and strength of the players. There were many exhibitions of the kung fu with flying lances, swords, hands, feet and other weapons too esoteric for my descriptions. There was “Animal Kungfu,” “Kungfu with weapons,” a sit up and take notice “Bullwhip Kungfu,” a “Kungfu Fighting” that had nothing to do with Carl Douglas and even “Chinese Fans Kungfu” that came very close to dance choreography. There were also feats of will and discipline including “Trident Quigong” which placed a spear into an artist’s stomach which would have pierced the flesh of almost anyone or thing. There was “Iron Head Quigong” that involved huge chunks of concrete and metal bars being smashed off a player’s cranium with a sledge hammer and the one that really had the audience squirming which placed men on sharp swords and beds of nails as they piled upon each other three layers high. No harm, no blood, no foul!
The ladies represented beauty and charm but also some unbelievable strength of their own. They enchanted in dances like “the Long Sleeves Dance,” or astounded in balance by spinning multiple colorful carpets with all available hands and feet, then actually used their mouths to make it five spinning at once. They deftly juggled umbrellas with their feet in a display of dexterity that would have been incredible had it been done with the hands. Yet, these were not the most incredible of their doings on this night. By far the most mind-bending of the ladies adventures was the single hand stand act that required the balance and contortion of an entire person on one dainty little hand supported by a shoulder of such strength it seemed absolutely impossible.
Not only did the audience learn a lot about Kung Fu and acrobatics we learned about the differences between Eastern and Western audiences who were represented in equal numbers on this night. Around my seats cries of amazement and appreciation rang out including the Chinese “Hoo Hoo!” and the Californian “Sheesh!” My sentiments exactly.