There’s a moment in Cirque Ziva where the eager desire to be impressed and wowed transforms into an almost routine expectation for the same. That moment happened sometime early on in the first act of the two-hour show that was presented Sunday night at the Walton Arts Center.
Many children were among the audience members lucky enough to catch this fantastic one-night showing of acrobatics presented by the Golden Dragon Acrobats. This troupe is so good that it was easy to quickly start taking their skillful acrobatics for granted as the show went on. But, in truth, they provided a high-energy evening of jaw-dropping, breathtaking acts that won’t soon be forgotten.
The Golden Dragon Acrobats, who hail from Cangzhou, in the Hebei province of China, have toured the United States regularly since 1978. Danny Chang, the group’s founder, producer and artistic director, is one of the world’s leading promoters of Chinese acrobatics. Cirque Ziva, created in 2011, is one of a series of theatrically elaborate shows created for specific U.S. markets. After a 10-week run at Asbury Park Boardwalk’s Paramount Theatre in New Jersey, this show toured across North America in 2103, and is now on its encore tour.
An important thing to remember about most of their stunts, an announcer reminded the crowd, is to not try them at home. But the thought was tempting, as the actors, athletes and artists employed familiar objects — such as umbrellas, balls, jump ropes, hats, vases and tables — in a variety of ways. The seeming ease and nearly flawless manner in which they approached and executed each trick made it easy to forget the many years of practice, and innate skill, it takes to do these feats.
So, once you recognized that you had no chance of doing most of these moves successfully yourself, you could just let this troupe overwhelm you with what they do best. Still, you could imagine placing yourself inside of a human-sized metal hoop and rolling that hoop around on a stage, while performing various stunts, as they did. You could also imagine fitting yourself in a regular-sized hula hoop to do the same.
For each segment of the show, they dressed in colorful costumes, very fitting to the flavor of the piece and the movements required of them. Traditional and contemporary music selections accompanied their movements — everything from drums to new-age music from Enigma and a bit of a guitar-heavy metal ballad.
Four women created a series of contortions and formed precarious poses, including forming a tower by layering their bodies in backbends. Another woman took a tiny chandelier made with water-filled shot glasses and kept it balanced on the foot she raised above her head, even while she rotated her body in concentric circles.
One man balanced himself on a board that sat atop a cylinder on a platform. He then proceeded to stomp one end of the board, catapulting a bowl from the other end of the board up and into a bowl already positioned on top of his head. Then, he flipped two more bowls at once, then three more, and then a can. His first attempt to flip a spoon into the can failed, but he succeeded with his next try.
For the hoop act, several men ran toward a vertical tower of hoops, leaping through them in a series of dives, forward and backward flips, and other moves. Five men lined up in handstands on one side of the hoop tower and collectively did the splits in the air, while another acrobat jumped through the hoop and over all of their legs.
With those hoops stacked six high, one man did a cartwheel and then propelled his body head first through the top hoop. He snagged the hoop, and the top portion of the tower fell away. But, he tried it again with success.
It was nice to see at least two examples of these performers making mistakes, but not being defeated by them. They tried again, and quickly got what they were looking for.
Another act, ball juggling, was dizzying and mesmerizing to watch. Five women laid on their backs with their feet in the air and balanced an orange ball on their feet. They eventually worked up to where they were each holding four balls — one with each hand and foot. Later, using stackable metal forms to make a tower, three girls positioned themselves in tiers on the tower, and they circulated the balls up one side of the tower and down the other.
For a particularly impressive stunt in the hat juggling act, one man threw his five hats diagonally out ahead of him and ran toward them to catch them as he juggled. Then, several members came out riding seatless unicycles, with one man leaping off of one unicycle, through the air over several guys lined up, and landing perfectly on the pedals of another unicycle. Also, two women jumped rope while on unicycles, and a man did two back flips with his feet clutching the pedals.
One of the more impressive parts of this constantly impressive night was the segment focused on diabolos — hourglass-shaped spools maneuvered using a string with two handles. The seeming effortlessness of this act is what made it so wonderful. Several women tossed the diabolos in the air and caught them, and they quickly tossed them back and forth between one another in various patterns.
So much of what these troupe members do involves careful precision and unbelievable balance — both of which keep them safe and make the timing with their partners work. If they wanted to make something more difficult or complicated, they just added some height to it and did it again.
A case in point is the man who performed the chair act. Atop a platform, he placed an upright wooden chair and then did a handstand. Then, he added a second chair — upside down, with the seats touching — and did another handstand. He added a third chair, with the chair legs touching, then added a fourth chair. In his handstand atop the fourth chair, his feet nearly touched the edge of the stage curtains.
Then, he paused, and the crowd asked for “more.” He didn’t add more chairs, he just made the feat more complicated. He positioned that top chair at various angles and did more handstands and other moves. His rock-solid balance as he changed positions while on that perch was simply perfect.
This show spoke to the playful, daredevil nature in all of us. And the array of stunts and skills exhibited by this troupe was nothing short of phenomenal.
Cirque Ziva was a one-night-only performance. For more information about productions at the Walton Arts Center, call (479) 443-5600 or visit the website at waltonartscenter.org.