The Golden Dragon Acrobats, a Chinese troupe that took its Broadway show on the road several years ago, proved during a weekend visit to Kingsbury Hall why the ancient art form of acrobatics never ceases to amaze.
The time-honored tradition has had a facelift in recent years — especially with so many big-budget “Cirque” shows popping up. Although Golden Dragon sported a few flashy props, some contemporary choreography and music that dipped from hip hop to techno to tribal drums, it was ultimately the group's authenticity that won the crowd over.
The mere fact that most props were simple and the overpowering sense that tradition was kept intact made you feel as if you’d stumbled into the performers’ hometown theater in Hebei, China. The troupe seemed to pay homage to many forms of acrobatics, not just gravity-defying power acts and contortionism. It reminded us that less-performed but just as challenging and mesmerizing are the arts of juggling, unicycling and group stunts.
Upping the ante within each routine and from one routine to the next is signature to the show. You might say that these folks are the ultimate multitaskers. Just when you thought a performer couldn’t balance one more glass of water on her lithe yet contorted limbs, she adds three more. When all eight men have hurled themselves gracefully through a small hoop, they raise the hoop and add flips into the mix. Another performer juggles a basketball into a hoop with her feet — but that is nothing compared to moments later, when she spins a table forward and backward with her toes.
Perhaps the most delightful and jaw-dropping act was "Tower of Chairs," in which a single man stacks chairs and carefully climbs to the top, performing precisely calculated handstands on his way up. After reaching the top, he begins tilting the highest chair into off-kilter positions and raises the stakes with gravity-defying poses. I don’t know about him, but I was sweating bullets just watching.
With any facelift, there’s bound to be some shortcomings. In this case, the attempt to incorporate contemporary music fell flat. The sound, though diverse in origins, had a common thread: over-synthesized and jarring. Director Danny Chang has created a fascinating show that deserves a soundtrack as rooted in Chinese tradition as the art form it showcases.
After an evening with the Golden Dragon Acrobats, I’d wager I wasn’t the only one in the audience who gained a deeper reverence for the human body and its capabilities. The agility, motor coordination, strength, athleticism and beauty of the troupe seemed limitless, and the routines that contested the laws of physics and physicality made it impossible to look away — even for a second.