4.35pm and the main theatre was still filling as two and a half thousand magicians passed through security and made their way into the main theatre for the FISM 2009 Opening Show.
On every seat was a glossy double sided A4 card in pink (FISM 2009 President Mr Lin Jian’s favourite colour) printed in gold with the program of the opening show on one side and the behind-the-scenes credits on the other.
With the chime of a gong the theatre darkened and FISM 2009 was underway. First were the traditional speeches from various dignitaries welcoming us all to FISM. This was followed by a very unique opening moment where a huge clear Perspex button was pushed and it lit up with welcoming words as air cannons were fired. Then Eric Eswin welcomed the registrants in several different languages and the FISM Presidents from all over the world (including Sue-Anne Webster from Australia!) were introduced.
The whole official portion was over in less than 30 minutes and presented very efficiently and professionally. Now it was time for the show.
Jiang Hua, a famous Chinese television personality, acted as host and explained that the show would highlight the Chinese female magicians who had won national and international awards, as well as showcasing many different Chinese cultural acts.
First up was the Yishan Drum dance, which was a great start to the show and, with extremely good lighting and staging, really set the tone for the whole of FISM. First magic act was Huang Zheng with her beautiful manipulation act ‘Memories’ which was especially well performed and got a great reception.
Another dance followed, and all of the dance numbers were energetic, very different to each other, and just long enough to provide variety between the magic. This was followed by Zhao Yuying with a fan production act. Though extremely well done, the act was possibly a little long as much of the content involved fan production after fan production, but was spiced up a little near the end when she went into changing masks.
Next was a ‘Clogs Dance’ followed by Xu Fengmei who performed the traditional Chinese water bowl production act. As Jiang Hua explained, it was very unusual for a woman to perform this act and she did a good job of it, but no matter how many times I’ve seen this act performed it really isn’t that much of a mystery as to where all the bowls come from. But once again, she did a good job and the production made the act look very good.
A two person dance entitled ‘Legendary Vine’ was next and it was almost something you’d see an experimental dance troupe in the West performing. Very different to all of the other dance numbers, but fascinating to watch.
Next came the act that stole the show. An astonishing acrobatic performance by the China National Circus. Women balanced bowls above their heads on one foot while they stood on the other, as men tossed them through the air onto each others shoulders. The flips and flexibility are impossible to describe and I kept hearing gasps from people all around me and the degree of difficulty kept rising. Finally, they threw a girl (who was balancing a bowl the whole time) onto the shoulders of a man who was standing on the shoulders of another man. As she somersaulted down to the stage the audience leapt to their feet in a standing ovation.
After another dance, this once featuring a lot of black light effects, we had the very unusual act of Shen Juan who the introduction promised would delight us with “thousands of flowers” and she did! She produced a seemingly endless amount of flowers which seemed to literally explode like fireworks from her barehands. At the end of her act the stage was absolutely covered in flowers and I can guarantee there wasn’t a single magician who wasn’t thinking “How long does it take to reset that act?!”
The show finished with the Yunnan Kunming Folk Dancing and Singing Theatre and a curtain call featuring all the artists who got a tremendous response from the crowd.
Almost everyone I spoke to afterwards said it was the best FISM Opening Show they’d ever seen.
We had half an hour before the ‘Welcome Dinner’ and the energy and excitement in the crowd was palpable. They were really charged and ready for a great week of magic.
Entering the ballroom it was really quite amazing to see reserved table seating for 2,500 with a fully professional stage complete with comprehensive video support (there must have been at least eight cameras) and a waiter or two at every single table! No-one’s glass was allowed to be empty, whether soft drink, water or wine, and there was more food than anyone could eat. (And we get a second banquet later in the week!)
Complementing a menu featuring jelly fish in vinegar, Chinese date with honeydew, sautéed celery and gingko with black fungus, and braised sliced weever with cheese and cream, we had an equally eclectic selection of Chinese entertainment. Plus we each got a beautifully designed souvenir menu (which is proving very useful as I type this report!)
Another CCTV star (Wang Xuechun) introduced the acts and we were treated to Li Huaixiu and Li Huaifu who sang a traditional song which demonstrated an astonishing singing range as well as a cheeky sense of fun, a spectacular number from the Beijing Dance Academy, the Acrobatic Troupe of China Railway Art Ensemble with a show-stealing display of rola-rola balancing, Hou Yanqiu who displayed absolute virtuosity on the traditional (and extremely high-pitched) instrument the Suona, a sample of Beijing Opera from the colourful Beijing Opera Troupe, some songs from one of the most popular Chinese singing stars Abao, and a final dance number from the Bejing Dance Academy.
Again, production of the show was extremely professional and video coverage for the massive ballroom was very well done.
Everyone left the ballroom satiated by Chinese food and culture and totally blown away by the presentation.
Yes, there was absolutely no magic in the dinner show, but we were treated to what appeared to be the absolute best in many facets of Chinese entertainment. Most people I spoke to afterwards said they wouldn’t have changed a thing and rated the first day of FISM 2009 a 9 out of 10.
If they can keep up the standard for the next few days, this may well be the best FISM ever.