Perhaps you’ve heard some version of the 150-year-old tune “The Flying Trapeze” in which the lyrics go something like this:

“He’d fly through the air with the greatest of ease,

That daring young man on the flying trapeze.”

Well, perhaps surprisingly, there is just such an offering on Jeju Island, a circus and acrobatic performance which playfully combines Korean storytelling, music, martial arts, and raw energy and spirit, with a classic presentation of Chinese variety arts.

This is the Shinsagae Show & Circus, an attraction based in the Jungmun Tourist Complex and a stone’s throw from the International Convention Center Jeju.

The circus has three 60-minute daily shows, at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. In the evening, the “K Show” has one 80-minute performance, with the exception of Tuesdays.

Though they are two separate performances, the “K Show” draws on a number of the Chinese variety arts acts and performers. Visitors can see one or the other and have a great time, though the “K Show” has a wider variety of acts and is designed with audience interaction in mind. This makes for a particularly memorable experience.

The “K Show” is the brainchild of Mr. Pyun Seung Moon, chairman of the Jeju Dong-Chun Circus Co. Ltd. and president of the Korea Acrobatic Association. Mr. Pyun, who is an architectural engineer by training, has combined his interests in acrobatics and engineering in an interesting way: the structure which houses the show are two large, gold-colored geodesic domes.

The smaller of the two houses the ticket booths, waiting area, and concession stands. The second dome holds a circular stage and seating for 1,300 people, which apart from the colorful lighting, dry ice and smell of popcorn, set the stage for a circus-like atmosphere, and is a great backdrop for the show overall.

Everyone seemed to have a fantastic time, including the performers.

During the daytime performances, gymnastics and aerobatics are on display. Young Chinese performers execute such feats as doing backflips while jumping through a double-dutch jump rope.

Later, a team of young ladies perform a gracefully synchronized “air dance” suspended approximately 5 meters above the stage.

And then there is the classic hoop jumping, in which teams of performers leap through combinations of double, triple, and quadruple hoops. Some even do amazing backflips through them. These young acrobats are really something to see.

But perhaps the part which everyone in the audience would agree is the showstopper is the four-person motorcycle stunt riding, in which these brave individuals ride their motorcycles at breakneck and gravity-defying speeds around the inside of a custom-made circular cage.

It’s loud, it’s impressive, and more than a few gasps from the audience made it clear it’s a white-knuckle performance.

 

Photo by Park You-kyung

Photo by Park You-kyung

With the 80-minute “K Show”, some of the elements of the circus do appear, though overall it has more elaborately designed music, costumes, story, and Korean characters, performers and martial arts on display.

Korean folk music and instruments such as the kkwaenggwari, the small hand-held gong, the janggu, an hour-glass shaped double-headed drum, and a number of different sized buk, or barrel drums, appear prominently.

Highlights include a Korean drumming performance with the drummers dynamically switching from one drum to another, working in perfect synchronization.

And during another part of the show, a woman and man clutch onto a rope suspended from the roof while they swing gracefully in an arc meters from the stage floor. Combined with the music and interactions of the performers, it is a very moving display, a kind of ballet in the air.

Photo by Park You-kyung

Photo by Park You-kyung

Towards the end of the “K Show,” after a motorcycle show mentioned earlier, a very energetic performance by the Korean taekwondo specialists, highlighted their kicking and jumping skills.

They wisely opted for balloons, rather than more traditional wooden boards used in these sorts of performances, for their mid-air moves, including kicking multiple balloons at different heights, combinations, and using side, round-about, and even back flips. This was perhaps the most entertaining part of the evening.

Everyone seemed to have a fantastic time, including the performers.

The “K Show” also has blindfolded swordplay, drumming with fiery drum sticks, a fusion shamanistic dance, exhilarating spear play, fan and flag performances, and much more. And it should be said that though it is geared to highlight Korean culture, the “K Show” is not hobbled by any kind of heavy-handed nationalism.

Mr. Pyun says that the idea behind the unique combination of Korean and Chinese performers and acts called the “K Show” is to engage the growing wave of Chinese tourists to Jeju, which in recent years make up the majority of island’s 2 million annual foreign visitors.

Though there are over 3,000 Chinese variety arts troupes in China proper, Mr. Pyun says that by putting Korean culture center stage during the evening performance, the foreign visitors from all over the world can enjoy and appreciate what Korea has to offer, while Chinese visitors, too, can enjoy this familiar kind of entertainment.

He added that the circus and “K Show” is also a much better value for your entertainment dollar than say a movie, and the show highlights acrobatic and martial arts skills which are very difficult to master, so in that sense the performers, who themselves are in their teens or early twenties, are excellent role models for youth today, who perhaps don’t appreciate just how much hard work is involved in the performing arts.

For more information and ticket prices, go to the Shinsegae Website.

Photo courtesy Shinsegae Circus & Show

Photo courtesy Shinsegae Circus & Show