Ling Rui leaps, twists and soars through the air, holding onto just two thin straps hanging from the ceiling. He also acts, sings and dresses up in a chicken suit. If you can’t imagine doing this as your job, take a look at all of the performers who call this their daily gig, in Teatro Zinzanni’s new show, ¡Caliente!
The show opened in early February and will be playing Wednesday through Sunday until June 10. ¡Caliente! was developed and directed by Ricardo Salinas, and the show debuted in San Francisco to rave reviews. Christine Deaver and Robert Lopez (the Seattle local known as the Mexican Elvis, a.k.a. El Vez) have brought the show to Seattle and introduce us to the new characters of Tres and Cinco, a brother and sister team who galvanize the show’s ragtag team of waiters, cooks and handymen, when the tent is threatened with closure by an unsympathetic Chinese real estate developer, Mr. Ching.
The first instinct is to wince at the stereotypical portrayal of Mr. Ching. At one point Cinco tells Mr. Ching, “Dude, you’re in America now! Speak Spanish!” But in reality, all cultures are poked fun of in this show — Mexican, French, and yes, even American — so playing up the reality of xenophobic stereotypes against the Chinese isn’t out of line with the rest of the show. With Mr. Ching’s slick suit and sunglasses but young boyish face, Ling wanted to portray the second generation of China’s elite. And Ling and the director wanted to pursue the ‘Chinese economic dominance’ storyline because “it does somewhat play off of reality.”
After watching Ling’s straps performance and the amazing strength required maneuver himself 20 feet in the air, it’s hard to imagine performing these feats day-in, day-out. But Ling says, “At Teatro Zinzanni, we only do five shows a week. At Cirque du Soleil, we did 10 shows a week. So this is like a vacation for me.”
The energy Ling exudes tells that he hardly knows any other lifestyle outside of performance. At the age of 10, he joined the Flag Circus of China, where he traveled worldwide and in 2000, he joined Cirque du Soliel’s Dralion, touring North America and Europe for five years. He has been performing with Teatro Zinzanni, shuttling between San Francisco and Seattle, since 2008.
¡Caliente! marks the debut of Ling’s solo strap act. In it, he enters a tortured, dreamlike sequence, of a man who is wrestling between two sides — saving the show and tent or going through with his real estate development.
Ling’s performance is just one of the many talents contributing to ¡Caliente! Robert Lopez and Christine Deaver’s roles as audience engagers are some of the most hilarious parts of the show, and the hoops and dance performances of Ukranian contortionist Vita Radionova are elegant, surprising and awe-inspiring. Clever arrangements and mash-ups mean the audience gets bits of everything from “West Side Story” to “Thriller,” Charlie Brown and Peggy Lee, including a timely homage to the occupation movement at the start of the show, complete with “99%” sign waving.
Ling has said that he’d like to figure out how to market the show to more Chinese and Asian people in Seattle — it’s a nut that they haven’t seemed to crack yet at Teatro Zinzanni. But, he sees a huge potential for reaching audiences who have a love of the arts, and maybe have seen Cirque du Soleil, but who haven’t yet been exposed to Teatro Zinzanni. “What’s unique about Teatro is that the performers are very close to the audience, sometimes less than one meter away. That took a long time to get used to, but it is so cool. It’s a really fun experience.”
When asked about what his parents think of his job, Ling hesitated and said that his parents have never actually seen him perform as an aerialist in person. That’ll change next week when his mom is coming to visit from China, and will be seeing the show for the first time. “Of course I will feel more nervous, but having her there will also give me more energy, and more strength.”
More about the show, schedule and tickets at www.dreams.zinzanni.org.