Bringing acrobatics to the Englert


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Usually a home for music, theater, and film, the Englert is about to play host to a new type of performer: the acrobat.

The Peking Acrobats will flip, tumble, and skate their way into the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday. Admission ranges from $20 to $30.

This marks the first time the Englert has had an acrobatic performance, Sean Fredericks, CEO of the Englert, wrote in an e-mail to The Daily Iowan.

“With the popularity of the Cirque-style shows, combined with the Iowa City area’s support for dance and movement pieces, we thought this was something that made sense to try,” he wrote.

The first incarnation of the Peking Acrobats arrived in America in 1986 through the efforts of producer Don Hughes and his partner, Ken Hai — a fourth-generation acrobat — as a way for people to “see another culture in its truest form.”

Hughes, who had brought artists over from Taiwan prior to forming the Peking Acrobats, said that before then, not many cultural traditions from mainland China made it to the United States, and acrobat troupes from the country usually had more than 100 members. The Peking Acrobats, however, have only 22, in addition to musicians.

One of the most important aspects of the Peking Acrobats, Hughes said, is the focus on a group aesthetic. No one acrobat is the star, and the performers all participate in much of the show.

“It’s an ensemble,” Hughes said. “The performers don’t come out and do the act, and you never see them again. If they’re not performing their own acts, they’re in the background.”

Unlike groups such as Cirque du Soleil, the Peking Acrobats focus on more traditional acrobatic stunts, relying more on themselves and minimal props than flashy showpieces.

“All the props are something you can find in your house,” the producer said. “I think the most modern prop in the show is a bicycle.”

The acrobats will bring in new acts, but, Hughes said, they will also perform staple tricks that people know and love. These include plate-spinning, contortionists, and Chinese comedy.

The group does a human chair stack in which acrobats balance themselves high above the ground on stacked chairs with no safety lines. For this stunt, the Peking Acrobats hold a Guinness World Record, which the troupe set on the now-defunct “Guinness World Records Prime Time” television show.

“It’s one thing to see crazy acrobatics and stunts on TV or online,” Fredericks said. “But when it happens right in front of you, I think you realize how talented these performers are.”

Live musicians will accompany the Peking Acrobats, playing Chinese instruments, drums, and flutes.

Included are the Er Hu, a bowed instrument dating to the 10th Century, and the Di Zi, a Chinese flute that has been around for more than 2,000 years. The musicians will play prior to the show while the audience is being seated, Hughes said, to allow audience members to see the instruments and get an idea of how they are played and what they sound like.

“Most of the acrobatic shows play canned music,” he said. “We like live musicians because it makes a big difference.”

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