The Jewels of Gui Shan.

"When Busby Berkeley met Aladdin" hardly does it credit. Jewels of Gui Shan, performed nightly by a cast of thousands in the Palace Ballroom of the Gui Shan Hotel in Guilin (Guanxi), is in a class of its own.

In 70 minutes of non-stop costume-changing, the unsuspecting 100 Yuan ($12USA) ticketed tourist is presented with glitter-laden glimpses of China from Guanxi to Tibet to Xinjiang to Mongolia and back to Guanxi again. We are treated to their garish dress, to their dances, to their garish dress, to yet more dances, to their garish dress…

Photo by Clive Barker.Occasionally, one is tempted to take the show a little seriously and treat is as sociology. One montage invites the second year undergraduate question "Do the wine dances of the Miao, Dong and Zhang minorities reflect significant differences in domestic power relationships in their respective societies?" - but then the pantomime water buffalo appears.

Occasionally when preposterous socio-political propositions are advanced, one is also tempted to question its sanity. We drove through the Muslim region of Xinjiang for two weeks or more and the idea that the typical dress of the women includes see-through pantaloons is laughable and rather offensive.

Photo by Clive Barker.Nonetheless the crew do a great job of leaping around the stage and on three occasions, the show is lit by quality performances. A young Miao woman plays a melody on the 3cm long bamboo leaf. Two tiny girls (combined ages 14) perform astonishing acrobatics, the smaller one being balanced, thrown and, most alarmingly, spun at great speed on the feet of her prone partner. And then the most mature performer, a woman, performs an exquisite and complex piece on a pipa, a rather elaborate guitar that is played upright.

All this for an audience of nine. Which brings me to the star of the show, for one of its saving graces is the democratic way it involves the audience. They are invited to play the bamboo leaf, try synchronised snowless skiing, and finally to catch the embroidered ball and thus receive the star prize of an embroidered bag.

Photo by Clive Barker.With an uncanny understanding of their public, the cast choose Stewart Minor. Not since being forced to play the Virgin in the nativity play at his Pickering prep school has he been dropped in the buffalo poo so comprehensively. His attempted rejection of the poisoned chalice (sorry, embroidered ball) is given short shrift by the rest of the Silk Route crew who have already suffered their own personal humiliations as tuneless bamboo leaf players and legless synchronised skiers.

And so he progresses to the stage to strut his stuff with a technicolour cast which outnumbers the punters by at least 3:1. He's the only one not in tinsel, but still, Stephen's the star.

Les Brook.

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