Ending A Busy Week's openings With Peking Acrobats

Surreal Tribute To The Human Nervous System Makes Its Way To The Marcus Center

Mar. 28, 2011
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I rounded-out a very busy week (6 shows in five days) with a performance of the Peking Acrobats at the Marcus Center. It’s fun, brightly colored tribute to the human nervous system. When compared against the stunning variety of beauty inherent in the life of the planet in all its forms, the human body looks kind of crude and pragmatic. Given the right kind of stage and the right kind of presentation, the human body can gain some respectable mount of grace. The Milwaukee Ballet is extremely good at making the human body look good. As it turns out, so are the Peking Acrobats.

A performance by the Peking Acrobats shows time and again in vivid detail that gravity is optional—that inertia is inevitable and that grace and symmetry are naturally occurring phenomena. The performance at the Marcus Center this past Sunday opened by a single unassuming marionette grew to include people scurrying up long colorful scarves hung from the ceiling, A woman balancing numerous umbrellas with her legs, men jumping through hoops, seven women spinning over fifty plates onstage at the same time and quite a bit more.

Watching this kind of thing, it’s easy to see why a group like Cirque du Soleil uses dream imagery in the narrative its heavily rendered circus performances. This kind of performance uses very commonplace imagery to create a very surreal and dreamlike stage environment entirely devoid of any coherent narrative. Ten to fifteen minutes into a performance of the Peking Acrobats, there’s a sense that physics, inertia, anatomy and the world around us don’t quite behave along the rigid guidelines that we seem to think they do. Everything is a bit more hazy and dreamlike than we’re giving it credit for being.

Even the most mundane things can seem totally surreal when shown in the proper perspective in the presence of people capable of the casually fantastic. Take a pair of large hoops, for example. In a normal human day, we run into all kinds of hoops and circles and things—metaphoric and otherwise. No matter how brightly clad they are, a group of men standing around with a pair of hoops probably aren’t going to seem all that interesting. When the group of guys is fluttering through those hoops like scraps of paper in a windstorm with greater and greater intensity and rhythm, the reality of what we’re seeing bends into the surreal world of dream.

At one point we see a woman in costume. Casual, right? People start bringing candles onstage. The candles are attached to really elaborate candelabra-like things. She begins balancing these things on various parts of her body and keeping them utterly still while doing contortions. What started off as a perfectly normal (and strikingly fit) human body now takes on a completely different reality.

At another point in the show, we see a man walk onstage dressed in traditional western chef’s garb. A large group of tables are lined-up behind him. It’s a nice, casual introduction to what ends up being a man spinning well over twenty plates—some on poles, some entirely on their own. Traditional dinnerware takes on a completely new dimension and the laws of logic and common sense end up getting a little fuzzy. Time and again, the casual and commonplace are made to look jaw-droppingly fantastic. It’s a remarkable journey. Yes, everyone’s seen a ballerina en pointe before, but a ballerina en pointe on one toe balancing atop someone else’s head? That’s casually spectacular.  

The Peking Acrobats’ next performance date is April 1st in Chicago. After that, they do an April 2nd performance in Madison at the Overture Center. On April 5th, they make it to the stage LaCrosse’s Viterbo University Fine Arts Center. 



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