[ATTENDED: April 5, 2017] Shaolin Warriors
When I first saw this listing in the State Theatre calendar, I knew I had to get tickets for the four of us. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew that it would be different from the acrobats, and yet have that same inspiration behind it. I sort of imagined simple displays of strength, focus and cool Shaolin spirituality.
I did not expect that there would be a “story.” And indeed there was one. We follow two children as they make their way into the Shaolin temple and grow and develop into Shaolin adults.
The only compliant I have is that the program notes state this: “Shaolin Warriors, highly acclaimed as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” live on stage, is definitely a must-see for family audiences and martial arts lovers alike.” By invoking Crouching Tiger, it suddenly set my expectations way too high. That film is mind-blowing, a visually stunning production. And this production is nothing like that. Rather, they could have described it as a Jackie Chan film come to life, and that would be more accurate (and still impressive).
While expecting Crouching Tiger, I found the first few parts of the performance to be rather slow. Now, in fairness, it is meant to be slow, it is trying to slow you down, to bring you out of the real world and into the spiritual realm of mental and physical discipline. And the darkness and music did allow for that.
After meeting our young students and seeing life in a Shaolin temple, they began to demonstrate their skills.
There was an incredible sequence in which a contortionist folded himself into truly unlikely shapes and then balanced on fingers or toes. It was really impressive.
There were sequences where all of the warriors would run on the stage, demonstrating incredible flips from standing positions, leaps in the air, somersaults and much more. Even the young children were amazing–the smallest one was able to do a full split from a standing position–yipes!
Half way through the first act they brought every child from the audience onto the stage (my kids didn’t want to go) and they taught them the sequence of moves that the warriors perform–a routine that they all follow. It was funny, because they littlest kids couldn’t do it and the warriors were incredibly patient with them. But it went on a little too long and definitely broke us out of the spell cast by the darkness and soothing music.
This also allowed the audience to talk. A lot. It was a pretty rude bunch of people. Why do you need to talk all the way through something? Especially a show trying to teach you about physical restraint and discipline.
As the story moved along they demonstrated fighting techniques. Like drunken boxing (one of my favorites and a great Jackie Chan film) and swords (floppy metal swords which are apparently super sharp).
The second act paralleled the first in that they brought two adults onstage and demonstrated a fighting technique to them. This was a bit more satisfying as it was shorter. The men could follow instructions better, but it was also funny because they obviously weren’t good at it and needed help.
The second act was overall more exciting though. In what was an incredibly easy trick to perform but one that was incredibly effective, during one of the scenes, the kids “grew up.” The two kids were practicing (doing “yahs” and all that) and as a troop of warriors walked by, the kids walked off and were replaced by adults–but it was seamless. All of a sudden the “yahs” were much deeper and as the troop passed by there were the adults–perfectly done.
There were boxing demonstrations and the great scene of act 2: 18 weapons. For this, each warrior brought out and demonstrated a different weapon. It was amazing–swords, sticks, knives, chains–so cool. I only wish they had named each one. And then they had a “battle” with them, which was a great demonstration of each weapon.
The Balance of Spears section was really the most mind-blowing of the bunch. They showed a man who was, in fact, laid down on the tips of four spears and held aloft–with no damage done to his body. Similarly, but even more intensely, they showed us 3 incredibly sharp blades (they easily cut through cucumbers). A man lay down on them. A bed of spikes was placed on top of him and a another man lay down on that. He held a cinder block and a third man broke it on the man’s chest. But no one was cut–how?
There was also some staff-breaking including one across one of the guys’ heads.
The final scene was one of fans and flags. The flags were like with the acrobats–swirling around and leaping over them, which is always fun. But the fans were mesmerizing. These fans (weaponized version of souvenir Chinese fold out fans) were used in routines–loudly snapping open and shut and then used to strike and defend. It was very,very cool.
The end of the show was the graduation, as the new Warriors received their robes. It was a really well told story (without words). I’m not always sure I followed the “plot” exactly, but the story was really enjoyable and surprisingly moving by the end.
And of course, the performers were utterly astonishing. Not Crouching Tiger worthy, but certainly as good as any martial arts film I’ve seen.
The whole family really enjoyed it.