The Peking Acrobats: Feats from the Far East


Contortion, juggling, plate spinning, hoop jumping – it’s difficult to name a skill that The Peking Acrobats haven’t already mastered and improved upon. Since 1986, The Peking Acrobats have dazzled audiences across the world with their daredevil tricks and stunts, performing each maneuver precisely and flawlessly, and their performance at the Zeiterion was no different. In addition to performing at countless venues around the world, The Peking Acrobats have also made appearances on several television programs such as The Ellen Degeneres Show and Unfabulous. The Peking Acrobats have also made appearances in Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and its sequels, and even managed to set the Guinness World Record for “Highest Human Chair Stack” live on Primetime TV. With so many awards and merits to their name, it’s no wonder that The Peking Acrobats always return to the Zeiterion with a new and improved performance every year.

For this year’s performance, new acts were added in, and old acts were improved upon or taken out entirely. A new feature this year was the addition of live music, with the traditional sounds of the dizi (Flute), se (Zither), and pipa (Lute) adding another layer of whimsy to the performance. As for the acts themselves, “Hoop Jumping” is a yearly favorite, with hoops stacked on top of each other to allow the performers to flip through them. The hoops are stacked higher and higher as the act goes on, with this year’s count only being 5 hoops, while performances from previous years stacked as many as 9. Another annual favorite is “Hat Juggling”, which is similar to regular juggling, except hats that are not in the air remain on the juggler’s head. This makes for some interesting scenarios in which the performers form a line and pass the hats down the line to put them on each others’ heads – this creates the illusion that the hats are momentarily suspended in midair. Many acts are more about precision than acrobatic ability – for example, in

“Plate Spinning”, the performers balance plates on top of tall rods, and are able to execute rolls while still keeping the plates aloft. Spliced in throughout the acts are two “clowns” that add some light-hearted humor to an otherwise serious performance. The clowns perform small feats of wonder, such as balancing atop a ladder that isn’t leaning on anything, or squeezing into extraordinarily small spaces.

By far the most famous and daring act of all is “Chair Stacking”, in which a lone performer stacks ordinary wooden chairs higher and higher, and climbs up until he reaches the top. From there, he proceeds to do handstands and other contortionistic maneuvers, all the while attempting to keep himself from suffering a nasty fall from nearly 30 feet. Thus, it creates a deep feeling of suspense that simultaneously makes you want to look away, but still look to see what stunt the performer will try next. Despite seeming like a relatively new practice, the art of acrobatics has been around since the Ch’in Dynasty (221 BC – 207 BC), and has become so popular that it has lasted for over 2000 years. In the ways of ancient tradition, each new generation of performers adds their own unique improvements to the previous generation, and this is still evident today, as many acts have been added in since I first came to see The Peking Acrobats almost 10 years ago. This is an interesting idea by itself, but it becomes even more thought-provoking when compared to the current day world. In 2000 years, will the human race still carry on practices that exist today? In the future, digging up the traditions of today may yield pleasant surprises, and it certainly seems this way for The Peking Acrobats. It’s a reminder that we all come from somewhere, and no matter where your roots lie, the traditions of the ancients will always continue to pulse and energize your lifeblood.

Year after year, The Peking Acrobats never cease to amaze me with their tricks and tumbles. This year’s performance has been one of the best so far, and I certainly hope that the circus will come back to town for many more years to come.


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