The acrobat tradition goes back more than 2,000 years, when performances were reserved for the emperor.

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The acrobat tradition goes back more than 2,000 years, when performances were reserved for the emperor.

Making impossible possible

Golden Dragon Acrobats defy the laws of physics

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Members of the Golden Dragon Acrobats train for years to accomplish routines such as this one, which requires balancing several plates from each hand. The troupe closes the Strings Music Festival summer season with a show at 7 p.m. today.

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The chair act is one of Golden Dragon's more challenging routines. Here, an acrobat balances carefully atop several chairs stacked on a small table.

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The Golden Dragon Acrobats' presentation is a break from the rest of the Strings Music Festival calendar, as one of the only performances involving dance.

Past Event

Golden Dragon Acrobats

  • Friday, August 22, 2008, 8 p.m.
  • Strings Music Festival, 900 Strings Road, (Corner of Mt. Werner Rd & Pine Grove Rd), Steamboat Springs
  • All ages / $35

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— For choreographer and costume designer Angela Chang, the most rewarding part of a Golden Dragon Acrobats performance happens in the lobby, after the show is over.

When children of all ages and backgrounds tumble on the floor, trying in vain to mimic the near-impossible body balancing and contortion they've just seen, Chang sees the goals of her company realized.

"That picture is so beautiful, it's really amazing," she said. "We hope from our show that parents can take the time to bring the whole family, walk into the theater, sit down and see the live show, and the kids can understand and share their feelings and their thoughts with their parents. : We really wish we could see more of that picture happen, because that's really the love."

Golden Dragon aims to keep alive a Chinese tradition that goes back more than 2,000 years, drawing on the fine-tuned talents of performers who start practicing the art form before age 10. They balance on chairs that are balanced on tables, contort into group shapes and spin plates on their hands while they tumble. By the time one of those acrobats makes it to the carefully balanced acts in a Golden Dragon show, Chang said they've likely been practicing for 15 years.

Today, that show comes to the Strings Music Pavilion, as the last performance of the festival's 21st summer season. Chang spoke with 4 Points about the discipline involved in acrobatics, keeping a tradition alive and speaking volumes with body language.

4 POINTS: How do you go about choreographing an act for this show?

ANGELA CHANG: I'm not an acrobat performer, I'm a dancer, so my focus is on the dance part. But Danny (Chang, the company's creator, producer and director), after we started to work together, he taught me the knowledge about the acrobats, and from there, every time when I choreograph a show with an act, then I will need to discuss with him the individual acrobats and know their personality and know which skill they have. And then we can put the show together.

I have to meet with everybody first, and know what they could do and what they couldn't do, and what kind of act will work with their skill. It's a lot of work. And then we'll try one more and one more until the performers feel comfortable, and until I feel comfortable.

4 POINTS: How do you know which skill goes with which acrobat?

AC: All of our performers are graduates of an acrobat school in China. And in the school they start with the very basic physical training, like a handstand, and that takes about two or three years.

And then in that period of time, the coach will start to watch each individual for what kind of personality they have, to train more deeply. The coach will start to separate the students and pick off the student - like a girl who has a really good body shape, they will train her for the contortion act. And then there are some boys who have a really good foundation handstand, and they have a personality that's very calmed down and concentrated, so we'll start training them for the chair act.

4 POINTS: What are the challenges to choreographing those acts?

AC: It's just that usually, for me, a dance group would be easier; I have more knowledge about that part and the music part. But for the acrobat you have to work on it with the individual performers, because you have to know their own skill.

For some, we have a very good picture in our mind. But when you put on a performance for the acrobats, sometimes they can't do it. Like the dancing plates, where you have four plates in each hand, and they still have to do the tumbling and be able to twist their body - that's the part that you have to go through to make the impossible possible.

That's why when the audience sees the acrobat show, they're amazed, because they think, 'That's not possible,' and it happens. The impossible happens.

4 POINTS: Do you feel a responsibility to keep the acrobat tradition alive?

AC: For our company, Danny is from an acrobat family, so he started very young. And so that's why his mind is always just acrobats, and he has a very strong mind to encourage himself to do whatever is possible, and to present acrobats to the whole world. :

An acrobat show, it's like an opera show - you don't need a language understanding, and you don't need a background understanding. It's like a body language. So the audience can understand the performers and the audience can easily understand how much time they spent practicing their own skill.

So that's why we really enjoy our business and we really encourage our performers that we really have a heavy duty and responsibility to bring the acrobats to other countries.

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