The Peking Acrobats

May 13-15, 2011

Tickets available through Ticketmaster or 204 949 3999

Welcome to the magnificent world of The Peking Acrobats! Here, the impossible is made possible, and daring only begins to describe their amazing performance. They are considered one of the finest acrobatic troupes in China today, and have received acclaim from countries around the world. An outgrowth of the Great China Circus, popular during the 1920s, this magical group became an integrated professional acrobatic company in 1958. Since then, they have consistently travelled the world sharing their special brand of enchantment with a global audience. In fact, company members were featured in Steven Soderbergh’s hit film Ocean’s 11, playing along with Hollywood elite such as Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and George Clooney.

This concert will be the first time The Peking Acrobats will be performing with an orchestra in Canada! If you enjoyed one of our sold-out performances of Cirque de la Symphonie last year, then you don’t want to miss this sizzling show! Perfect for the whole family!


I sometimes have some difficulty deciding whether I prefer being in an audience or on the stage. There is a certain kind of pleasant, exciting but almost lazy charm to just sitting back and watching others entertain. On the other hand, being on stage and in front of an audience also has its upsides. I count myself lucky to have been on both sides of the performing “relationship” (audience/entertainer) in these last few years. Cultural Lion Dancing with Bergen Chinese Dragon & Lion Dance Troupe for countless performances everywhere from restaurants and parades to Continental Arena and the IZOD center; hip-hop choreography with Verse|One Dance Troupe at Rutgers for cultural shows to cotillions; even informally during previous Chinese School years, acting out “The New Year Dinner of the Gods” with my old and very amusing classmates in front of the Chinese School during Chinese New Year (good times hahaha.) Ohh, that old Chinese School class. As one of us said a while back–a sentence that struck me as quite fitting–”We’re all performers” (or something to that effect.)  Surely, we are, since even back then most of us were learning Lion Dancing or Chinese cultural dancing, and in college we gravitated towards certain dancing niches…I’m still amused whenever people are surprised to hear that I dance.

Seeing two variations of the famous Beijing acrobatic shows in the past week makes me think about the interesting features of audience members who are performers themselves. As I watched the male and female acrobats performing feats of amazing dexterity, coordination, and general bodily strength, I caught myself really appreciating the show more because I can understand parts of how difficult it is to do some of what they do–one-armed handstands, all sorts of flips, climbing up poles with just upper body strength–I guess the thought I had has something to do with how knowing a bit about a skill gives one a healthy appreciation when seeing people at the top of their craft.

Having performed on stage, one appreciates all the more when one sees good showmanship, in the form of constant smiles (or at least appropriate expressions) or some kind of stage presence. This past Wednesday, I saw the Imperial Circus of China perform at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, and this past Saturday I watched the Peking Acrobats perform at Bergen PAC in NJ. I had a few distinct impressions of both: while I was very impressed with the acts and overall skill level of the performers in CT, perhaps my one issue with their show (also noted by the friend who had invited me) was that the music stopped in-between acts, which seems like an easily remedied fault. In the grand scheme of things, a small gap between acts of such a caliber is perhaps negligible, but I think that because the acts are so interesting, the show itself would have been almost flawless if all the separate acts were woven together into a flowing narrative. Silence between acts, in my opinion, breaks the semblance of cohesion and interrupts what had otherwise been a captivating show. So when I watched the Peking Acrobats in NJ, I couldn’t help but to pay close attention between acts, and my thought is that whoever was in charge of organizing their acts understood what I was talking about above about uninterrupted narratives–the song from one act blended quite well into the next.

Comparing the two different but similar acts, I was happy to see that each featured stunts and acts that I had never seen before–the Imperial Circus had an act with hat juggling, for example, and the Peking Acrobats had two (very acrobatic) children as part of their acts. Watching acrobatic shows always makes me wonder what kind of training the acrobats undertake in order to become so fit, flexible, and nimble.

All things considered, I think I usually prefer to be on the stage, because of the very process it takes to get there. I love practicing and training to improve, and the bonding that comes with spending so much time with a team of committed (ideally, anyway) individuals, and the sense of unity and cohesion once we’re approaching a goal, and the almost palpable excitement–crossed with a degree of nervousness–on the seconds before we step on-stage. And once the music begins (proverbially or literally), time flies away and as performers, we’re in the zone, and seemingly seconds later we’re done and out. Hours and hours of work for our seconds of fame, hahaha. That isn’t a complaint by any means–anyone who’s had to practice should be able to appreciate true mastery all the more.

At the same time, being a performer, leaner and teacher, I like how my focus is drawn to different aspects of the show when I watch performances now. I pay close attention to how the performers move, I note when people are out of sync/formation, when they lose their stage presence–I note these things, and sympathize, because having been ‘there’ in a way, we know that it could happen to us, and that’s why it’s all the more important that we practice, train, remain diligent and focused when necessary.

From the unofficial teaching standpoint, I love seeing my students improve, whether it’s in lion dancing or hip-hop dancing. This past visit to Rutgers, I was able to sit in on a V|1 practice while they were doing critiquing of 2 pieces that they’re auditioning for…today, I think, and seeing that most of them had improved in some ways, I was so proud hahaha, even though their improvement wasn’t necessarily due to any influence of mine; it was a mother/father-bear-like pride born of seeing improvement from those who love what they do, and that’s always gratifying to me.

Oh, dance. We’ve had this funny relationship, you and I. I knew I was always interested, but didn’t know how to start; you were cool with that, you taught me the importance of what it means to throw yourself into what you’re doing, and now here I am marveling at how you’ve helped me grow.

Work, play…dance? :D

[re-posted from WordPress]


The Peking Acrobats will perform next Thursday, February 7. Tickets are selling fast so get yours today!

Video: The Peking Acrobats in 30 seconds (via)

UC Berkeley Courses: Human Synchrony

Recently, the students in Tanya Vacharkulksemsuk’s Haas School of Business class, Human Synchrony (UGBA 157x), put down their briefcases and backpacks to participate in a workshop with music teaching artist, Melanie DeMore.

The workshop was supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in collaboration with Cal Performances to create new courses that feature Cal Performances’ current season programs as the center of their curriculum. Students in the Human Synchrony class had the opportunity to attend four events at Cal Performances over the semester: Peking Acrobats, Kodo Taiko, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Cal Performances supplements the grant with master teaching artists to engage the class in the deeper meaning of the performing arts they attend and focuses on how these arts relate to their class content—in this case, exploring the connection between synchronized human body movements, human emotion, and the collective behavior in work settings. Hence the class’s engagement with DeMore, a master teaching artist whose vocal and choral work has been showcased at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and international folk music festivals from Europe to Cuba and New Zealand. And here she was working with UC Berkeley undergraduate business majors.

DeMore’s workshop aimed to inspire feeling and share knowledge with the undergraduate class about the origins of the music, dance and spirituality they would be experiencing two weeks later when they went to see Alvin Ailey’s dance masterpiece, Revelations. DeMore started by laying down a rhythmic clapping exercise to draw focus into first the rhythm itself and then to the students’ relation to each other.  “Relax and breathe. Don’t anticipate,” DeMore intoned. As the clapping patterns became more intricate and faster, some faltered, laughed, stepped back and then rejoined in the rhythm circle.

As we shook out our reddened hands, DeMore passed out thick, wooden, decorated sticks; some painted with patterns, some with words, some with strings and small flags. These are of the Gullah tradition. The Gullah are the people and descendants of enslaved Africans who were brought to work in the low country region of the U.S. states of South Carolina and Georgia.

Classroom instructor Vacharkulksemsuk and her students used the sticks to create rhythms to accompany their music and dance. We started moving our feet first slowly in a circle, then began layering over our steps a beating of the sticks on the floor.  Soon students were adding their own syncopation over the steps and basic beats, thus creating our own specific spiritual “song” of sorts—engaging with the music in exactly the same way that the Alvin Ailey dancers do when they perform Revelations.

The workshop concluded with the learning and refining of an intricate beat box sequence using the body with snaps, claps, slides and slapping of the chest, a musical “pat your head, rub your belly” exercise that pulled us together (more or less) in synchrony. Students were left smiling, sweaty, and walking down the corridors jingling the change in their pockets to the beat-box rhythms.  And being a bit more literate about the artistic challenges that face dancers working with traditional rhythms and music as part of their creative toolbox.  

by Kenny Wang, Education and Community Assistant

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