World-renowned acrobats stun crowd

IAN LACK Lifestyles Reporter

A lifetime of training prepares the Peking Acrobats to take the Performing Arts Center stage in a series of extreme balancing acts and stunts

Music calms to a silence as the lights dim. Audience members hush and take their seats in the main floor and the balconies. Eyes shift to the performance stage as the spotlight moves toward its center. The audience waits for performers to emerge and begin the show.

But, suddenly performers in Chinese lion costumes emerge from the same doors audience members entered to the Larson Memorial Concert Hall in the Performing Arts Center. They weave their way through the crowd and begin to perform balancing acts and aerial stunts in the bright yellow costumes.

This is Peking Acrobatics, a troupe of 25 Chinese acrobats including tumblers, contortionists, jugglers, cyclists and gymnasts. Their performers are from across China and are hand-selected to be part of the world touring performance.

Celebrating their 30th Anniversary Tour, the troupe was booked to perform at the PAC about two years ago. The troupe is booked to perform in more than 15 other states as well as locations in Canada.

Peking Acrobatics is one the most sold-out acrobatic performance shows around the world, with past performances in America, Europe, Asia and appearing in Hollywood Films and on the Ellen show.

The group was formed in 1986. The full-time performers range in age from 16 to 25, as 16 is considered the age of emancipation in China.

Cynthia Dike-Hughes, co-producer of Peking Acrobatics, said the performers are trained in specialized schools in China where they spend the morning learning in classrooms and afternoons practicing their trade. This training begins at around age five with the performers being masters of their trade by 16.

“The most fascinating part of the show is the innovation of the artists. They are constantly upping the ante on their acts, and making them more exciting and thrilling, year after year,” said Cynthia Dike-Hughes, co-producer of Peking Acrobatics.

Each performer is versed in a specific routine and practices to maintain his or her expertise in this.

“They [routines] are then incorporated into the other acts in the show, so everyone participates in the overall performance,” Dike-Hughes said.

This performance, among many others that appear at the PAC, was sponsored by an anonymous donor, who provided performance, travel and lodging expenses. Because of these paid expenses, all proceeds from ticket sales fund the Woodbine Music Scholarship.

Woodbine Productions presented the event. Tickets for the event ran from about $15 to $28.

“Getting performers to come to South Dakota is not always as easy as getting someone to come to a major metropolitan city,” Director of Development for College of Arts and Sciences Rina Reynolds said. 

“We thought it was so important to bring the group here to SDSU for the educational value as well as the entertainment they provided,” she said.

The troupe’s movements on stage were accompanied by traditional Chinese instruments, adding calming notes to performers’ movements of beauty and higher pitched sounds to accompany many of high-stakes acts.

These acts included one act where six performers balanced atop six chairs, over 20 feet in the into the air. This act earned the group a place in the Guinness World Records.

Throughout the two-hour show, several other acts involved plate spinning, tumbling and flipping through undersized rings and balancing acts on poles. Many of the acts evoked audible responses of shock from the audience as the performers continually raised stakes.

“I think that what draws a lot of people to the acts is the danger,” Mindy Newman said, a graduate of SDSU. “It wouldn’t 

be as exciting if there wasn’t 

danger involved.”

Newman accompanied her mother to the performance. The two had been looking forward to the event when they heard the group would also be performing at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“I thought that the act with the plates was interesting. There were about 30 different plates spinning at once and nothing broke,” Newman said. “We thought incredible and they’re very talented. It’s a great show.”