The circus has come to town! It has no big top, only the surroundings of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, and there's only one "ring," but this is brim full of acrobats, clowns, jugglers, magicians, dancers and even lions. The lions -- three of them -- are really five acrobats in disguise, but they're funnier and more agile than true lions could ever be.
The show is the Chinese Golden Dragon Acrobats and Magicians of Taipei. It's been here before and the current run, which opened Tuesday, lasts until Sunday with afternoon as well as early evening performances. People who think of the Kennedy Center as a highbrow place for the performing arts shouldn't be scared away. It's blessedly cool compared with a tent, and anyway, that bothersome distinction between "art" and "craft" is a western invention. These Chinese troupers are so skilled that they sometimes fake a fumble in order to get an extra laugh.
Everyone will have his own favorite on the program. Mine was the "Tower of Chairs." It is done with household items: a table, four bottles of champagne (they should be emptied well before the performance), six chairs. The bottles are placed on the table and the chairs, one atop another, rest on the bottles. It is simple stacking, accomplished without any sleight of hand, but when the construction is finished it reaches up to the Concert Hall's second balcony. Anyone with a perfect sense of balance could do it. The young Chang Family acrobat who accomplished it the first night added handstands way on top and even angled the uppermost chair, but he was showing off.
Some people can't watch this sort of thing or 15 bowls set spinning atop bamboo poles. Be assured, no bone was broken and no porcelain chipped. Nor did the strong man, twisting an iron rod around his neck, choke, or the blindfolded tumbler set himself aflame diving through a burning hoop.
For gentler souls, the women of the troupe performed a pretty ribbon dance and an acrobatic adagio at ground level. For the ambitious, there's a magician who needs stooges -- the two he picked from the audience on Tuesday had stage flair. Throughout the show there are colorful silky costumes and a sprinkling of elaborate hairdos. Even the lions wear their manes the Chinese way. Rostropovich and company this isn't, but the Concert Hall could do worse.