Shaolin Wheel of Life thrills audience with choreography

The sold-out performance of Shaolin Wheel of Life at the Lied Center Wednesday night combined kung fu, ancient Chinese history and amazing feats of strength.

The story is an adaptation of an ancient legend about the Shaolin, a peaceful society of Zen Buddhist monks, who were betrayed by the emperor of China. The monks lived a peaceful life of prayer and meditation, practicing kung fu to keep their bodies and minds in shape.

Once, while visiting the emperor, the monks were asked to help defend against an invading army. They defeated the army but rejected the emperor's request that they stay and be his personal bodyguards. Furious at the rejection, the emperor lulled them to sleep with poison incense and slit the throats of all but five of the monks before taking his own life. The five young monks who survived went on to resurrect the Shaolin way, thus continuing the so-called "Wheel of Life."

One of the most exciting moments of the performance came at the end of the first act, when the invading army, dressed in black battle uniforms, came screaming down the aisles of the auditorium and dove on stage. What followed was a thrilling, choreographed battle sequence between the monks and the warlord, complete with kung fu, spears and nunchucks.

The performance had no dialogue but instead relied on a taped narrator and the skill of the performers to tell the story. The only noise (other than brief music) in the entire two-hour performance came from the monks chanting or fighting.

The performance was almost circus-like in its use of kung fu, acrobatics, choreography and contortion. Some of the monks' most stunning moves included contorting their bodies into pretzel-like shapes, holding up their bodies on two fingertips, and balancing on one leg for three minutes, with one foot held above the head.

The evening was akin to watching a live kung fu movie. But what made Shaolin Wheel of Life so awesome was the fact that none of the action was faked -- something which made the performers all the more awe-inspiring.

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