CULTURE- ART FEATURE- </span>Ix-travaganza: the sequel: Shentai shakes it up

Last summer, the "Charlottesville Wunderkammer" jolted the ‘ville out of its heat-induced haze by artfully (and I mean art-fully) transforming the rundown Ix Building into an eye-popping carnival of burlesque pleasures. It was fun. It was funny. It was a hard act– or rather, acts– to follow.

Undaunted, many of the same individuals behind the Wunderkammer, maintaining their fictional identities as a misfit carnie family, have put together a new Ix spectacle, "Shentai." Its slogan: "The circus must go on." 

But sequels are always problematic. Audience expectations run high, and what wowed before is no longer new. The challenge becomes to refine and embellish the formula that led to previous success. 

In many ways, Shentai is the performance art equivalent of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest– and not just because both follow-ups feature squid men. The sets are more elaborate, the cast is larger, and some of the new elements are positively magical. For instance, the stilt-walking innovations, particularly Kelly East's and Johnny Fogg's "quadro creatures," are weird and amazing.

Yet, like Dead Man's Chest, the freshness of the original is absent (not to mention Zap McConnell's effervescence), and certain sequences go on too long and don't quite cohere. Last year's Wunderkammer presented the Greek tragedy of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra played out in a mental hospital. This year's Shentai stages another ill-fated romance from antiquity: Dido and Aeneas (the latter represented by the abovementioned squid). Although Sian Richard's portrayal of Dido as a cross between Katherine Hepburn, Suzie Wong, and Nora Desmond is wonderful to watch, the play overall is convoluted and hard to follow.

And, just as the thrills of the fight scenes in Dead Man's Chest weaken as they stretch on, Shentai's climactic firedance, "The Kindled Flame," loses some of its sizzle by the time it concludes. Nevertheless, the piece, choreographed by Kelly East, is undeniably hot, featuring a mesmerizing lamp sculpture, firedancers on stilts, and a jaw-dropping hula-hoop-of-flame performance by Spiral, clad only in a gold glitter bikini (and where else are you going to see that?).

A highlight of Shentai's numerous sideshows is the beautifully conceived "Natural History Peepshow," an "educational" experience narrated by Christian Breeden, oozing his usual charisma. Plus, the popular tap-dancing Vampirates are back. And although Shentai is sadly light on visual art, Beryl Solla and James Yates' glittery "Futurevision" provides interactive fun.

All in all, Shentai offers big bang for your art buck. May the circus go on for years!

Performers Exchange Project, Zen Monkey Project, and the Living Education Center present "Shentai" Thursdays through Sundays at 8pm through July 1 at the Ix building. Tickets: $15/advance, $20/at the door, and Sundays are pay-what-you-can. Adult audiences only! 2nd St. and Monticello Ave. For more information, visit  HYPERLINK or call 434-409-8219.