Demure. Adorable. Could kick your caboose from Mandalay Bay to Shanghai.
And so fit and food-smart I want to drive her to the nearest Burger King and force-feed her a Whopper just to drag her down to my gastronomic level.
“You like vegan pizza, don’t you?” I inquire.
“Are you following me?” the little lady asks with a sweet smile.
Aware that this gentle-voiced delicate flower is a martial arts master who could slice and dice me into a pile of ground-chuck, I quickly tell her that I saw it on her Twitter feed.
She giggles. I melt.
“I always wanted to come to Las Vegas to visit because it’s a famous city, but I never thought to work here,” says 27-year-old Jade Xu (pronounced “shoe”). Once a “wushu” kung fu champion and also a martial arts movie actress in China and Europe, Xu now not only works here but is featured in Cirque du Soleil’s latest aerial epic, Michael Jackson ONE at Mandalay Bay.
Cast as one of four “misfits” who are affected by Jackson’s music and mystique, she plays “Shy.” (Character names aren’t designed for subtlety, as she’s joined by “Clumsy,” “Sneaky” and “Smarty Pants.”) On their Jax journey, they are transformed as each comes to personify the pop icon’s qualities of “agility, courage, playfulness and love” through one of Jackson’s signature doodads—forgive us, “talismans.”
Donning Jackson’s sunglasses, Xu’s “Shy” overcomes her introversion, then triumphs over a gang of warriors in a martial-arts melee set to “2000 Watts” and “Jam.”
“It was creative, this character,” says Xu, who helped choreograph the combat scene. “I wasn’t a crazy [Jackson] fan, but I really liked his music. I start also to do research to know more about his life and personality and be more involved in his story so I can perform.”
Born in Shanghai in 1986, Xu (real name: Xu Huihui) was mostly raised in Italy and drew career inspiration from her mother, Xu Guan Guan. “My mom was a professional athlete,” she says. “For many years she was also an Italian national coach, and my personal coach, of course. She gave me her passion.”
Beginning her training at age 6 and specializing in wushu—derived from kung fu as both an exhibition and full-contact sport—Xu racked up an impressive slew of international wushu victories, including three straight world championships.
Retiring from competition in 2009, Xu has concentrated on a movie and TV career in such projects as the Chinese series The Legend of Wing Chun and the film Tai Chi Zero. Then an unlikely offer came down the pike—one not immediately embraced.
“[Cirque] requested her several times,” says Xu’s husband, 34-year-old David Torok, a German-born wushu athlete who met his wife at the European championships in 2006. “At first we were thinking maybe it wasn’t a good idea because we had an offer from China, so we refused. They wrote again and said the director, Jamie King, was very impressed by her video, it blew him away and he really wanted her in the show. We refused another time, but they finally convinced us.”
Today, Xu fake-kicks warrior butt on the Michael Jackson Theatre stage as “Shy” vanquishes her shyness. “I like to try always new things,” she says.
Except, perhaps, a Whopper.