Shanghai Mimi is currently playing its world premiere season at Sydney Festival.
The show description tells us that Shanghai Mimi lift the curtain on the jazz bars and heady nights of Shanghai in the 1930s. While there certainly is a Chinese feel – red lanterns abound, the 1930s element is not consistent throughout the show. The acrobatic troupe go from wearing shiny, flapper style dresses to hot pants for one of the numbers and to a unitard missing a leg for their acrobatic numbers.
Sophie stunned in her role as both the titular Shanghai Mimi and in her singing both solo numbers and duets with French Cameroonian Simon Abbė.
Those songs, a lot of which were sung in their original and traditional Chinese, could have benefited from providing the audience with surtitles or perhaps translations of the lyrics in the program (which had already helpfully been translated into both English and Mandarin).
The whole show came about because of the discovery of boxes of Chinese jazz recordings from the 1930s in a dusty old warehouse in Mumbai. The music therefore plays an integral part. Live on stage is a six piece band who bring us back to a different time.
Simon Abbė’s role in the performance was not immediately clear – at first he seemed like a token non-Chinese person on stage, at other times he seemed more like an annoyance or the mere tidy-upperer of the group. A few pieces into the show, he sits in front of the audience and tells us that his mother died when both she and he were young and that his grandma had always told him to always move forward. He told us how much of a dream it was to work in the circus business. His story was touching and his enthusiasm and passion tangible but his telling us this seemed a little out of touch with the swinging heady jazz fuelled nights we were meant to be taken to by Shanghai Mimi. But once Abbė’s role was apparent, he stunned with both his vocal and his dancing abilities.
Qinghai Acrobatic Troupe is made up of five women and two men who perform various acrobatic feats during the 75 minute show.
For the Qinghai Acrobatic Troupe being new to Australian audiences, a number of their acts were not. There comes a point after seeing a few circus acts that no matter how well performed, there is no longer the shock factor and the impressive wow how are they doing that? The Yo Ho Diabolo, plates, and hula hoops have all been done before and the Qinghai Acrobatic Troupe did not add bring anything new to that repertoire. The spinning plates act is something which had its origins in Chinese circus but the Qinghai Acrobatic Troupe did little to add to what we have seen Western circus troupes do with it.
The dance acts of Qinghai Acrobatic Troupe need more rehearsal – the movements which were meant to be coordinated were sadly often not.
The highlights however were the circus and dance acts that we don’t see elsewhere, namely the part where one of the members of the troupe flawlessly threw about and caught, including on the back of his neck, large and from the looks of them, heavy, Chinese vases. The band informed us before he started the act that it was traditionally performed to classical music so his performing it to a jazz tempo was even more impressive.
The traditional dance number, which was done to the song of the same name and theme was the mountain and eagle dance. This was something unmistakably of the Chinese culture and frankly, something I had expected more of.
The hat swapping act provided amusement for the audience as the two gentleman juggled, flipped and caught their own and each other’s hats. It was refreshing as it did not feel so overdone like many of the other circus acts.
Late in the show the acrobats together with Sophie sit as Auld Lang Syne is played. it seemed quite odd – was it because the show is being played in Sydney just a few weeks into the Western New Year? Or is it to symbolise the Chinese New Year which is coming up at the end of the month? None of this was really made clear until Sophie explained the sacrifice the artists had made, some only seeing their families every seven years for the lunar new year.
Shanghai Mimi has the potential to be an outstanding show with a few tweaks and the addition of some more Chinese elements in the programming. It will be interesting to watch how this show develops post Sydney Festival.
Shanghai Mimi was part of Sydney Festival
Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Sydney Festival