The "World Theatre of Dogs"
The announcement in the weekly "what's happening" email caught our attention:
Needless to say we were intrigued, especially when we learned that the last performance was on Miranda's birthday! Truly a command performance...
We arrived at Beijing's massive ballet concert hall and took our seats. Of course, the girls' stuffed animals HAD to come along to enjoy the show (and they insisted on wearing costumes, of course!).
The theater quickly filled up with kids and grown-ups. We sat in the front section, where tickets sold for the equivalent of US$37 each, a small fortune here. Nevertheless, the entire section was packed, no doubt due to the newly acquired taste among Beijing's urban elite for petite apartment dogs.
As we waited for the show to start, the loudspeakers periodically blared reminders, in Chinese, to turn off cell phones and pagers, not take flash photographs, and not leave trash on the floor. Of course, as soon as the show started, the flashbulbs started popping and the phones kept ringing. Figuring it was OK emulate the locals in their disregard for the rules, I whipped out my camera and started clicking away...
We had no idea what to expect. The show was straight from Uzbekistan, which only added to its confounding allure (Uzbekistan? Cinderella? Dogs?!). As it turns out, it was a strangely wonderful mix of dog show, circus act, and folk ballet. The visuals were especially impressive:
Most of the sets were made out of richly-colored fabric that appeared to be hand-sewn. The costumes were equally impressive: each mixed beautiful fabric and lots of intricate workmanship. I'd love to see what the set and costume designers could do with a Broadway budget!
Unfortunately, the musical director was not as talented. The score, a noveau type of cheesy Pop from Russia, sounded like something a high school freshman might make right after discovering a synthesizer. Definitely pre-recorded (complete with pre-Dolby static). It blared forth from state-of-the-art loudspeakers cranked to their highest level. We wished we had taken our earplugs along!
The dogs, of course, were the stars of the show. They appeared in every scene, robed as beautifully as their human handlers. Since no one spoke, the fact that dogs don't talk did not compromise the story line...
As far as we could tell, in this version of Cinderella she is a dog trainer, and dogs are the only animals in the kingdom -- no mice, no horses, no birds.
I kept expecting Cinderella to leave her favorite leash at the ball (or some other dog-specific item). Instead, she loses her slipper, and as the prince searches for her, he visits all sorts of people, each of whom is surrounded by talented dogs.
|Of course this show had a magic carriage, though in this case it was pulled by matching St. Bernards, and driven by a well-dressed poodle. Note the dog decorations!|
|In addition to dancing at the ball, Cinderella gets her dogs to perform (presumably new) tricks. It wasn't clear whether the Prince was smitten by these antics or her gown. In any case, the audience loved it!|
|Not to be outdone, the Minister (in green) and the King stepped up to juggle. No one seemed to pay attention though, since dogs were not involved. I was secretly hoping to see a poodle flipped around; it was at that point that Sharon leaned over and wondered aloud whether PETA would have a sign-up table in the lobby after the show...|
Then, after stripping off his shirt, the Minister continued to showcase his talents by balancing on a rolling board while twirling rings --hula-hoop style -- without falling down and dropping a ring. This time everyone was watching!
The Russian circus tradition was clearly in swing. It wasn't clear what it had to Cinderella, but we didn't mind.
|Not to be outdone by the Minister, the Prince (astonishly buff underneath his silk brocade) proceeded to showcase his strength. He first hefted a series of heavy metal balls (making it clear that they were not fakes!), and then outdid himself by lifting a bevy of dancers and dogs, dressed as if they just finished filming some kind of strange MTV video...|
|Finally, the finale! Everyone paraded on stage with a dog. I didn't keep count, but my guess is that there were, indeed, 40 actors and 40 dogs -- all from Uzbekistan.|
Our only disappointment? No concession stand in the lobby selling "World of Dogs" T-Shirts. We had planned to finish all our Chirstmas shopping in one night.
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