Performers from "Chi -- A New Era in Acrobatics" fuse acrobatics and marial arts in a show of balance and strength. The artists from Shanghai presented a demonstration at Ala Moana's Center Stage before the show opened at the Blaisdell Concert Hall. Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. today and 2 p.m. tomorrow.

The balance
yin and yang

WHAT an incredible machine the human body is! It can do almost anything, and do it with grace and beauty and breathtaking skill. And if the body belongs to a Shanghai acrobat, it can do it all without snapping in half or falling on its butt.

That's what passes for reflection while watching "Chi -- A New Era in Acrobatics," a Cirque de Soleil-inspired extravaganza featuring acrobats and dancers from China. One feels a trifle guilty wriggling for more comfort in a Blaisdell seat while the people on stage are supporting themselves in mid-air on the strength of one hand.

"Chi" is the Taoist phrase for inner breath or strength, but it runs deeper than that. It has a lot to do with the dipolar existence of yin and yang, of being in harmony, of staying in balance with nature -- in other words, of being an acrobat. The members of the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe who are in the show are extraordinary athletes, no error, but they also manage to exude a sense of peaceful spirituality.

While much of the show is intense and colorful, some of the pieces are quiet and meditative but require no less concentration and stamina. (The quiet pieces tend to bore the very youngest audience members, so be forewarned.) The acrobats simply do extraordinary things: leap through hoops, balance on poles and trapezes, pile on one anothers' shoulders to dizzying heights. Often, after a feat, audience members can't control themselves and shout "No way!"

The acrobatics, spectacular as they are, are standard fare for such gifted athletes. The Cirque de Soleil influence is in the presentation -- dazzling costumes, exciting, original music and ballet-influenced choreography. It's very much a theatrical presentation, with the "acts" given titles like "The Spirit," "The Wonder" and "A Better Tomorrow" instead of more descriptive titles like "The Bit Where Nine Women Dressed Like Tulips Stack Up Chairs on Top of Each Other and Stand on Their Hands."

Afterward, you can't help wondering what the performers' sex lives are like, or if they go through 50-gallon barrels of aspirin on tour, or if they're demoted to roadie when they're injured. It says in the program the ancient Chinese invented acrobatics, which is probably related to startling surprises created by the Chinese invention of the firecracker.

"Chi" is an extraordinary, amazing show that plays again only tonight and tomorrow. Admission ranges from $18 to $48. For information: 877-750-4400.

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