The Peking Acrobats, a troupe of Chinese tumblers, contortionists, jugglers, cyclists and gymnasts, are back in town at the University of Washington Meany Hall for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Jan. 23.
They gracefully contort their bodies on stage, maneuver through tumbles and somersault tricks and make balancing on top of a stack of chairs 20 feet high seem like a cakewalk.
The Peking Acrobats, a troupe of Chinese tumblers, contortionists, jugglers, cyclists and gymnasts, are back in town at the University of Washington Meany Hall for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Jan. 23 — the troupe’s fourth performances with the UW World Series since 1992.
The show will celebrate the Year of the Monkey and the Peking Acrobats’ 30th anniversary of performing in North America.
The Peking Acrobats
3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, at Meany Hall, University of Washington, Seattle; $50-$55 (206-543-4880 or artsuw.org).
“You hear these superlatives about them: ‘dazzling,’ ‘thrilling,’ all of these things, and they are all of that,” said Terri Mumme, UW World Series director of marketing and communications. “They are able to do things that would not seem humanly possible to do and pull it off.”
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“Your jaw drops watching them,” she added.
The troupe’s act is grounded in more than 2,000 years of Chinese tradition and folk art. Records of acrobatic acts date back to the Ch’in Dynasty (221-206 BC), when games included tumbling, juggling and balancing plates, cups and the like. After catching the attention of the ruling class, acrobats were often invited to perform at court.
“They were basically taking household items and using them in incredible ways,” said Steven Hai, the troupe’s assistant and creative director. “You will see spinning plates, you will see someone balancing on top of a chair stack, (and) diabolos, which is a Chinese yo-yo.”
The troupe, consisting of 26 acrobats — some of whom began acrobatic training at age 6 — will perform 18 acts during the two-hour performance. A live orchestra with instruments like the pipa, similar to a mandolin, and the guzheng — a plucked zither, similar to a harp — will introduce the audience to traditional Chinese music.
Hai said the performance is a culturally enhancing experience for people not familiar with Chinese culture. He still remembers a show the troupe performed at a private school in Virginia.
“I had goose bumps because every single person in the theater jumped up and screamed,” he said, recalling the kids’ reactions. “I hope to bring that everywhere.”
For Hai, the Peking Acrobats is a family affair. His father, Ken Hai, a former acrobat, started the troupe about 40 years ago in Taiwan. Since then, the Peking Acrobats have performed across the world as well as on the big screen — company members were featured in the film “Ocean’s Eleven” and on various television shows.
“We’ve done work in the Hollywood Bowl, and that’s an amazing venue,” Hai said. “You’ve had Jimi Hendrix on that stage!”
Despite the glitz, Hai said that the troupe is really just a big family. Members always watch out for one another.
“Just being able to entertain and be on stage, it’s a privilege,” Hai said. “When you see people doing things that you don’t think is possible, it gives you the ability to dream bigger and do anything in life.
“It’s entertainment in its purest form,” he said.