When The Peking Acrobats appear onstage at the Clark Center, they will bring their latest feats of balancing, cycling, gymnastics, juggling and contortions, enhanced by live music and high-tech special effects.
The Chinese troupe’s 2013 tour is their 27th in North America, and they travel the world with their popular show. They were performing in Holland when Cynthia Dike-Hughes, co-producer, spoke to us from her Central Coast office, explaining that it wasn’t possible to interview a member of the troupe because none of them speak English. She mentioned some of the highlights of this show.
“There are new acts every year,” she said, “as well as the tried and true traditional ones.”
This tour features an aerial act inside a hoop, as well as a “bicycle pagoda,” with 15 people balancing atop one bike. Among the favorites are the creatively costumed Lion Dance, and the tower of chairs with performers doing handstands.
There are 25 in the cast, ages 15 to 25, including five musicians who accompany the acrobats with traditional Chinese music.
These performers are selected from thousands of acrobats in China, where the acrobatic tradition dates back to the Ch’in Dynasty (221 B.C. to 207 B.C.), Dike-Hughes explained.
“Our artistic director, Ken Hai, is a fourth-generation acrobat,” she said. “His great-grandparents were acrobats. He travels all over China looking for the best performers.”
Hai has plenty of talent to choose from, the co-producer said. Every city has its own acrobats, trained in special schools, some of them government sponsored. Acrobatics is often a family tradition, and some of today’s acrobats have acrobat ancestors dating back thousands of years.
“The schools are similar to U.S. performing arts magnet schools,” Dike-Hughes said. “Students have academics in the morning and acrobatics in the afternoon. To earn a place in a performing troupe, a student will discover what skill he or she has acumen for and refine it to focus on a personal specialization.”
There are about 100,000 students studying acrobatics in China. After 10 or 11 years of extensive tutoring, often beginning as early as age 5 or 6, a student may join a professional troupe, usually a citywide or regional organization. The art form is continually evolving as each generation of acrobats adds its own improvements and embellishments.
Competition is stiff as Ken Hai goes from town to town auditioning for new members of The Peking Acrobats and discovers talented young performers with innovative skills that he can incorporate into his troupe’s repertory. Being a member of The Peking Acrobats is a goal that a performer sees not only as a career, but as an opportunity to travel the world.
In China today professional acrobatic troupes have many outlets for displaying their talents. Some appear on television, and some travel throughout China performing. Others provide entertainment at theme parks. An exceptional acrobat can achieve celebrity status in China, Dike-Hughes said, comparing them to U.S. opera stars.
The Peking Acrobats have reached celeb status in the United States as well, performing on television and in films, as well as with symphony orchestras and during special events. Technology has added a dimension to their shows with creative lighting, special effects and what the co-producer calls “trade secrets.” She said the exciting and colorful production is appropriate for all ages.
IF YOU GO
The Peking Acrobats
7 p.m. Friday
Clark Center, 487 Fair Oaks Ave., Arroyo Grande
$39 to $48
489-9444 or www.clarkcenter.org