What makes the Chinese Acrobats and Magicians of Taiwan so interesting is not that they turn handstands, jump through knives, form human pyramids and change scarves into doves, but that they do it with such total theatrical flair. The troupe opened their week-long run at the Warner Theater last night with a profusion of beautifully costumed, tension-filled stunts requiring strength, balance and hair-splitting percision.
Some of the theatricality is excessive, like the young woman who swallows a sword, neon-coated so it can be seen as it travels down her throat; but at its best, as in the opening "Chinese Carnival" where tumblers dressed in red pajamas hurl themselves amid churning flags of yellow silk to give the illusion of dancing through fire, the Taiwanese put on a show as beautiful as it is exciting.
The magic acts, which have not been included on previous U.S. tours, consist mainly of familiar transformation and vanishing acts, each explained beforehand in clear and gracious mime, some assisted by audience volunteers who attest to the integrity of the magicians.
There are too many separate feats to describe them all -- a bewildering succession of balancing acts, two "lions" put through their paces -- but it is only fair to mention the "Pagoda of Chairs" a stunt to which the most despotic emperor wouldn't have sentenced a third prisoner, in which a young man calmly does handstands atop a teetering stack of six chairs balanced on wine bottles. It should also be noted that they all performed without a net. The Taiwanese understand that tension is a keystone of good theater.