Family of fabulous Taiwanese acrobats tours the country
New York — The exuberant acrobatics of ''The Chinese Magic Revue of Taiwan'' leave a reviewer feeling that (in W.S. Gilbert's words) ''his capacity for innocent enjoyment is just as great as any other man's.'' Who could resist these ebullient tumblers, jugglers, and balancers? Their feats are fantastic, their energy is unflagging, their agility is amazing, and their comedy is infectious. With no more decor than four Chinese-red lanterns and no more scenery than a surround of black drapery, the 18 colorfully costumed men and women from Taiwan have taken over the stage of the Promenade Theatre for a limited engagement that ends next Sunday.
After an opening ceremony and dragon dance, the visiting Taiwanese get down to the serious business of amazing the spectators. Words can scarcely do them justice. But here goes. A unicyclist spins around the stage spearing (with a small black stick clenched between his teeth) lemons tossed from the audience. Puns the program: ''This act is no lemon.'' A diminutive contortionist emerges, feet first, from a large zipper bag and proceeds to fold and unfold herself in shapes that defy anatomical analysis.
Honoring a 2,000-year-old Chinese stunt, the tumblers dive through flaming circles of knives. A kung fu specialist does incredible things with bricks, steel rods, and bamboo sticks. A sword swallower ingests (on the same menu) a drumstick, three swords, and a lighted red neon tube. A gorgeous yellow-and-orange lion comically threathens the juniors in the audience, then gingerly tiptoes across a seesaw, balancing on two large balls.
There is legerdemain, of course, performed by a decorous lady magician aided by several pretty assistants. There are prodigious feats on the high trapeze (plus an upside-down walk across the proscenium), and there are balancing acts of various kinds. In the most spectacular demonstration, one of the acrobats climbs a skyscraper of kitchen chairs mounted on four bottles. Reaching the top , he performs a series of precise handstands.
Whatever their specialties, the company members are all acrobats. They climax their displays of prowess with some group variations on gymnastic themes, including a maneuver called ''the human pyramid.'' It is a breathtaking climax to a family show by a family troupe.
A program note tells something of how these world-traveling performers develop their skills:
''Training . . . begins at the age of 4 or 5, learning to dance, Chinese opera and acrobatics. Children spend some four hours per day going through their paces, so that by the time they are 14 or 15 their art has become a part of their daily lives and virtually second nature. In most cases the children's families are part of the troupe, and their real training begins as soon as they are able to observe their parents practicing and performing. 'The Chinese Magic Revue' is directed by Mr. Hai Ken Tai and his brothers Hai Ken Hsi and Hai Ken Fou, whose family name Hai is synonymous with physical feats of daring and skill in Taiwan.''
After its stint in New York, ''The Chinese Magic Revue'' will embark on an 81 /2-month tour, visiting 25 states and 6 Caribbean islands, playing mostly before college and university audiences. Information about the itinerary may be obtained from International Attractions, 2554 Lincoln Boulevard, No. 372, Los Angeles, Calif. 90291; telephone (213) 306-6855.