[ATTENDED: February 28, 2014] The Peking Acrobats
This was our third time seeing the Peking Acrobats. Actually I stand corrected, last year we saw the “Golden Dragon Acrobats” who I believe are not the same as the Peking Acrobats. Typically we see them at RVCC but this year we mixed it up and went to Princeton’s McCarter Theater instead. The location didn’t make much of a difference, although the stage may have been a little bigger.
There weren’t a ton of differences between this show and previous Chinese Acrobat shows. But it’s always amazing to watch them. Side note: our Cub Scout Troop went to the Big Apple Circus again this year but we opted not to go. Clark was bummed that we weren’t going but when I said we were going to see the Peking Acrobats instead, he perked right up. Turns out he wanted to hang out with his friends more than see the Circus. I do enjoy the Big Apple Circus, but it seemed a lot more expensive this year (and our seats last year were really lousy anyhow).
This year’s show opened with drums, something that I had never really seen with the Acrobats. There were four women playing on large drums–they played a cool rhythm and did some interesting arms movements. It was a good start to the show. However, drums seems to be the theme this year and I felt like there were a few too many drumming interludes (four in total I believe). Drums are neat, but honestly you can only listen to a drum solo for so long.
I’m quoting from my review from 2012 because it was pretty much exactly the same:
As the show opened, there were ropes hanging from the ceiling (not secured to the ground). And then several men came out and climbed the ropes. Which would be no big deal, except that they climbed them like monkeys do–or more literally as if they were walking up the rope while holding on to the rope like a grappling hook line. From there they proceeded to leap back and forth between the ropes.
These ropes were actually attached to the ground, I think–they seemed stiffer, which allowed for slightly different activities–it’s always fun to watch them hang upside down and somehow scoot their way yup the rope. The biggest surprise to us was that at least two of them men appeared to be no more than 10 or 11 years old. No idea if that is true, but, wow, they looked young. There were certainly some older acrobats too, but wow, their youth was shocking.
Obviously I’m comparing this show to the 2012 show (since the 2013 show was in fact different). And I see that there were a lot of the same skills.
So, from 2012:
The acrobats typically altered between girls’ acts and boys’ acts. The boys’ acts were primarily ones of incredible strength and balance. The girls’ acts were primarily ones of amazing (and at times disturbing) flexibility and balance.
The show started with one of the youngest boys doing a juggling act. This was one where they juggle by bouncing the balls on the ground. He got as high as 8, although admittedly seven and eight were only one pass each. Indeed, I initially felt a little let down with the show this year because there were a number of mistakes–something I didn’t think ever happened.
One of the mistakes was actually excellent though, because it showed just how hard the challenge is. The girl held sticks that had plates spinning on the tops of them. While walking around with these spinning plates, they did impossible things–rolling over, climbing on each other, etc. It’s crazy impressive regardless, but to see her drop one and see the plates actually fall off made me realize that they actually CAN fall off, which makes what they do even more impressive. Of course, the simple act of–without using your hands–climbing on someone’s shoulder and they walking across the five girls standing in front of you–ON THEIR HEADS, would be impressive even if they weren’t holding spinning plates in their hands.
There was also some technical difficulties when the men were jumping through the teeny tiny hoops–a favorite. They had a turntable with the hoops on it , but every time they started the turntable the hoops would fall off–it wound up being a lengthy set up for only one trick although it was still pretty awesome.
During the first show in 2012, the acrobats stacked a series of chairs on top of each other and did amazing hand stands on them–a precarious and dangerous stunt. I almost though they weren’t going to do this year, but they saved it till the end. This is now the third or fourth time I’ve seen this particular feat (other acts have done it too). It blew my mind the first time. And I didn’t think I’d miss it if they didn’t do it. But they did and I’m glad because it never fails to amaze. The chairs seemed especially wobbly this year and, because of the set up of the McCarter Theater, his feet were almost touching the top of the stage when he did his hand stand.
There were other feats of strength and toughness–having four brick smashed on one guy’s head (with a sledgehammer) and a guy being supported by spears (these were both done at Ringling Bros a few years back, so the surprise was lost, but it was still cool). And the crazy strong movements of them basically doing Olympic gymnast routines–on rings and other apparatus where they have incredibly body control and strength (like hanging off of the necks of the other acrobats while “lying” horizontal in the air).
The girls’ feats weren’t that different from 2012:
The girls were able to: balance an impossibly tall and precarious amount of glasses (on trays and piled high like an inverse chandelier) on what I believe was the bridge of her nose–and then climb a series of steps; bend their bodies in a way that I assume means they have no spine–so that their chins were on the ground and their feet went behind their heads and then were flat on the ground as well–in one variation, girls did this position while resting their chins on a ledge of an artificial tree, effectively making them look like branches. (The picture to the right doesn’t even begin to show what they were capable of).
Some updates–the precarious things were balanced in their mouths (!) I could see the mouth guards that they bit onto. And the glasses also have liquid in them. The tree was done as well, and it was still really creepy and really stunning–and the branches of the tree were also supported by their teeth!
Most of the feats seemed shorter to me than in past performances–as if the addition of the drums meant fewer antics. The hat jugglers–always a comic highlight–and the hoop jumpers all seemed to be over quicker than I remembered.
There was a clown this year who was very funny (I assume he was there in 2012 but I don’t remember him). He mocked some of the feats of strength. Like the amazing guy who juggled a very heavy clay pot by catching it on the back of his neck and spun it on his head with out using his hands. Weird and very cool. The clown came out and did the same with a balloon. He also instigated a comic routine involving a man who could fold himself into a preposterously small tube and then crawl through it using…what? his fingers? his behind? I have no idea. And then…do it vertically! Perhaps the funniest was when the clown balanced a tall pole with a basket of eggs on his head.
And finally, the most visually arrested spectacle was when they came out and did the lion dance. Dressed in the style of Chinese Dragons (big heads in front of long draped bodies) two people danced, climbed steps, leaped over each other and walked back and forth and up and down a ramp on a large ball. Now obviously we knew there were people in the costumes, but they moved with such precision that it was easy to believe that this was an animal. And you watched them thinking, wow, how does a lion do that, and then remembering that it is really two people working in perfect synchronicity and that was even more amazing.
I’m updating this to say that they were clearly dogs (they “played” with balls and wagged their tails). But they were so incredibly convincing as dogs that it was indeed very easy to forget there were people in there. This year the dogs had a “puppy” as well which was very funny. The same skills (ramp, walking on a ball) were still amazing to watch.
I enjoyed that they added a new segment in which the women did a combination balance feat and of strength in which they did their own version of the stacked chairs routine. This was possibly more impressive than the men’s version.
Something new was a routine in which three women climbed up and did stunts of curtains suspended from the ceiling. I have to admit that I didn’t really watch this very much because also on stage were a man playing an erhu and a woman playing a pipa. I was mesmerized by the bowed sound of the erhu and the amazing fingerwork of the pipa. I literally could not peel my eyes away from her making these amazing fast sounds on this oddly shaped instrument.
Here’s (unrelated to the Peking Acrobats) videos of these two instruments
And the finale showed them all lifting each other up and then–a personal favorite–riding a bicycle with the whole troupe balanced around them.
In 2012 I said it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. I’m a little jaded now I can see. But even though I’ve seen it all before, It was still really amazing, and I would totally go again.