Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

WSO, Chinese acrobats a stunning combination

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Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press

The Peking Acrobats perform the Lion Dance at the Centennial Concert Hall with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Friday night.

They're baaaack! Three years after its last local appearance, the world-renowned Peking Acrobats tumbled onto the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra stage Friday night, wowing the crowd with another jaw-dropping show of dazzling athleticism that pushes the bounds of human physicality.

Last seen in May 2011, the 29-member troupe (including its own band of musicians) bedazzles audiences everywhere they perform. Considered one of China's top acrobatic troupes, the PA have appeared in both film and television including Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's 11, and even set a Guinness world record for human chair-stacking.

The three weekend Pops shows titled Peking Acrobats Encore! led by WSO resident conductor Julian Pellicano opened with the iconic Lion Dance, with five shaggy lions flanked by gymnasts who help the winking beasts mount precarious teeter-totters before they ultimately give birth to an adorable baby lion.

The aptly titled Let the Spinning Plates Spin did just that, as six young women balance spinning white plates aloft on slender poles. Their grace and delicacy -- not to mention impeccable balance -- as they perform somersaults and even walk on each other's heads while keeping their twirling dishes intact immediately engaged the crowd of 1,817, heard audibly gasping throughout the nearly two-hour show.

By contrast, Kung Fu Ceremony set to The Last Emperor Theme imbued the show with noble dignity, as a bare-chested athlete hung suspended by aerial straps before becoming lifted, prone, by pointed spears. The fierce concentration when another holds layers of bricks on his head, to be smashed by his company mate's sledgehammer, astounded by its visceral demonstration of utter trust.

There are even good-natured clowns that help the East-meets-West show flow seamlessly as props are set up between acts. Even Pellicano got into the act, egged on by the harliquinesque clown while proving he's a good sport if not necessarily a world-class tumbler himself.

The WSO also performed some of their own high-flying musical acrobatics, including Khachaturian's Gayane Suite No. 1, Lezginka, as well as Derrick Wang's Asian-flavoured Valley, Mountain Sky setting of two Northern Chinese folksongs.

The lyrical Fruit on the Tree accompanied by Rimsky-Korsakov's mysterious Scheherazade saw six young female contortionists perform handstands on each others' backs before climbing a "tree trunk" to bend backwards as "fruit," each performer balancing on their own respective "branch."

Tumblers abounded during Diving Daring Do where six young males took turns leaping through vertical hoops, precisely in tune with each other's lithe bodies.

What became particularly gratifying is the fact this is ostensibly an all-new show from 2011. The audience was treated to (mostly) new acts, although the troupe wisely didn't tamper with its jaw-dropping Pagoda of Chairs, Bicycle Pagoda, and record-breaking Human Pyramid that closes the show.

As expected, the crowd leapt to its feet with a rousing standing ovation, clearly in awe of the acrobats and doubtlessly eager to try a few of the tricks at home for themselves.

The show repeats tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2014 A28

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