A young woman is standing on her head and is using her legs, stretched upward in a vertical line, to juggle a second woman. She spins the woman by moving her feet with such speed the motion becomes a blur.
And this is just one of the dozens of stunts performed by the award-winning Yunnan Provincial Acrobatic Troupe, currently on their first tour of Cambodia.
The curtain went up on the acrobats’ debut Wednesday night at Chaktomuk Theater, in a special show for government officials, attended by Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
For starters, the performers took turns flipping through the air and jumping through a giant human pyramid, all to trumpeting strains of the “Theme to the Magnificent Seven.”
Among the other highlights were two women sandwiching their legs backward over their shoulders in a move that would send shivers down the back of many a chiropractor, as well as a man balancing on a ladder while using his foot to flip soup bowls—as many as four at a time—onto his head.
These breathtaking moves draw on China’s ancient tradition of dramatic arts. Unlike their pampered Hollywood counterparts, Chinese actors and actresses are expected to undergo a grueling regimen of acrobatics training, often from a very young age.
But in this troupe’s case, the typical stage gymnastics are raised to the level of gravity-defying magic.
Consider the standard trick of spinning a plate balanced on top of a wood cane.
The Yunnan Provincial Acrobatic Troupe version of this involves a woman spinning five plates-on-sticks in each hand while balancing herself upside-down on the head of another woman, standing upright and spinning ten plates of her own.
And while some of troupe’s repertoire had to be cut due to the small size of the Chaktomuk stage, the missing acts were replaced by an expanded comic routine, involving clowns throwing Chinese boomerangs, squirting water from their ears, and in one case, brandishing a “urinating” doll.
The Chinese Embassy is billing the visit as a landmark cultural exchange, offering Cambodians the rare chance to enjoy this uniquely Chinese art form.
Embassy officials note that the Yunnan troupe are the first high-profile Chinese acrobats to visit Cambodia since before the Pol Pot period
In fact, the 45-year-old troupe is more than just high-profile, routinely snatching up top honors at China’s national acrobatics tournaments and even pulling off a medal-sweep at the 1998 International Art Festival in Pyongyang.
These skilled athletes treated various Chinese business associations to their program in a special series of shows Thursday.
The public will get a chance to take in the action during two performances slated for Saturday.
In addition to Cambodia, the troupe’s current tour includes stops in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
The public shows are scheduled for 3:30 pm and 6:30 pm Saturday at Chaktomuk Theater. Admission is $5.