Review: Cirque Shanghai – Year of the Dragon (Navy Pier)

| June 3, 2012
"Cirque Shanhai: Year of the Dragon" at Navy Pier - Group Chair Stack       
Cirque Shanghai:
       Year of the Dragon

Produced by Haiping Ge
Directed by Miao Miao Chen 
at Pepsi Skyline Stage, Navy Pier (map)
thru Sept 3  |  tickets: $15-$30   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
           Read entire review


A gasp-inducing, magical thrill-ride! 


Cirque Shanghai: Year of the Dragon at Navy Pier - The Wheel of Death

International Special Attraction i/a/w Navy Pier presents
Cirque Shanghai: Year of the Dragon

Review by Katy Walsh 

I got shanghaied for the first time last summer.  I went to see Cirque Shanghai Extreme (my review) in 2011.  The show was amazing.  For about the same price as an IMAX movie virtual experience inside, Cirque Shanghai Extreme provided a mind-blowing, live performance outside.  No 3-D glasses required, the action was in the flesh, in the room, and in the face… one act – literally- a few feet overhead.  I went into the 2012 show braced for a repeat, routine spectacle.  I am delighted to report about 75% of the show is new acts with the other 25% kicked up a notch with colorful twists.          

Navy Pier, in conjunction with International Special Attractions, presents Cirque Shanghai: Year of the Dragon.  Chicago may not be hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics, but China still arrived in town to dominate.  And undeniably they go for the gold and the Windy City wins!  Cirque Shanghai starts and ends with oriental flourish.  The silk-covered pageantry is visually stunning.  The vibrant commencement "Cirque Shanghai: Year of the Dragon" at Navy Pier - don't miss it!and closing are Year of the Dragon mini parades.  In between these showcases are the thrilling showstopper acts.  

Director Miao Miao Chen orchestrates the fourteen acts to mingle gravity-denying and death-defying numbers.  There are only a couple acts that allowed me to thoroughly relax because no one could get killed.  The rest are gasping, panting thrills!  It’s shocking and primarily without a harness!  (This must be what Barnum & Bailey Circus strived for before American insurance carriers cracked down.)  The discipline and physicality of the performers is unbelievable.  They are outstanding and elegant athletes.  They make their moves seem effortless and definitely sweat-less.  Wow!

One of my new favorites is an all-girl foot juggling. These gals, in perfect precision, pass, dribble and shoot balls… on their backs and stacked on top of each other.  I can’t possibly describe it for its grandeur.  Suffice to say, NBA will never impress me again.  Another new spine-tingling-crusher is the Wheel of Death (see picture above!).  I almost lost it during this sequence.  The orange cones alerted me to the danger zone but I was not prepared.  Two wheels, a cross between a hamster contraption and a ferris wheel, spin with two men.  The men balance each other out in opposite wheels.  As they turn their individual wheels, the entire monstrosity revolves around, narrowly clearing the big top ceiling.  Well, that’s scary enough, right?  Wrong!  The guys take turns being on the outside of their wheel.  There is no caged illusion of protection.  They are completely out there.  Horrifying as it gets?!  NO!  Then the guy on the outside of the wheel juggles, jumps rope and even does a stint hooded.  I apologize to Row J for any profanity I might have uttered spontaneously.  But that is some crazy sh*t!     

And it’s not just about the new stuff: the returning Imperial Thunder ride their motorcycles around the Globe of Death.  Last year, this act shocked me.  This year, I was ready for it.  So, of course, a new twist surprised me.  This act is marveling.  Despite the doomsday scenario, there is something magical about it.  It kind of reminds me of a Harry Potter’s Quidditch match.  The visual is mystical.  

In 2011, Cirque Shanghai was extreme.  And in 2012, they are triple-dragon-daring!  This show is THE reason to hit Navy Pier this summer.   Whether it’s a family outing, date night or office coffee break, Cirque Shanghai: Year of the Dragon is a fierce, untamable phenomena.  It will slay YOU! 

Rating: ★★★★

Cirque Shanghai: Year of the Dragon continues through September 3rd at Navy Pier Pepsi Skyline Stage, 600 E. Grand (map), with performances Wednesday/Saturdays at 2pm, 6pm and 8pm, Thursday 2pm & 8pm, Fridays 2pm, 7pm & 9pm, Sundays 2pm & 4pm.  Tickets are $15-$30, and are available by phone (800-745-3000) or online at (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 75 minutes with no intermission)

"Cirque Shanghai: Year of the Dragon" at Navy Pier The Teeter Board from "Cirque Shanghai: Year of the Dragon" at Navy Pier
Hoop Diving from "Cirque Shanghai: Year of the Dragon" at Navy Pier Contortions, from "Cirque Shanghai: Year of the Dragon" at Navy Pier

Photos by Paul Natkin



behind the scenes

Haiping Ge, International Special Attraction (producers); Miao Miao Chen (director); Paul Natkin (photos)

Globe of Death from

How many high-speed motorcycles can they fit inside?


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Category: 2012 Reviews, Circus, Katy Walsh, Navy Pier, Pepsi Skyline Stage

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