September 17, 2008

The Death-Defying Golden Dragons

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Drum roll. The audience at the State Theater was absolutely silent — anxious with anticipation — waiting for what would be the grand finale of the Golden Dragon Acrobats’ dynamo performance last Saturday.
“Ladies and gentlemen, what you are about to see is incredibly dangerous. Please, do not try this at home.”
Huh … they’re saying that now? The first two hours of the performance had already seen a multitude of acrobatic feats that, performed by lesser-trained individuals, would have resulted in any number of injuries, as mild as hernias or as severe as broken bones.
So what could the Dragons pull out of their hats now that would warrant the issuance of a formal warning that could upstage everything the audience had seen already? I was skeptical. No way could they top the first act’s closing segment, which had seen no less than a dozen of the acrobats piling on to one singular bicycle, gliding across the stage. Surely they couldn’t deliver any more astounding a display of balance and strength than one male acrobat spinning around the stage, giving the impression that his female counterpart was pirouetting on his shoulder. No way, I thought, could they surprise any more than they already had. But I was wrong.
[img_assist|nid=31776|title=Acrobatic!|desc=The Golden Dragon Acrobats wowed audiences at the State Theater this past Saturday|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The acrobats stacked six chairs, one on top of another, and at the bottom supported by skinny foundation; the resulting structure stretched 20 feet into the air, so high that I was barely able to see the top under the overhang from the State Theater’s balcony seats. One dragon, who had been receiving the chairs from his colleagues below and stacking them, lifted himself to the top of the edifice, and then stretched his arms and legs out horizontally (like Superman flying), supported by nothing more than his arm. 20 feet Up. Oh. My. Frigging. Gawd.
Hailing from the Hebei province of China, the Golden Dragon troupe — consisting of 16 of the country’s most talented acrobats — has performed in each of the 50 United States and in 65 countries the world over. The team is made up of nearly even proportions of men and women, and the acrobatics on display often shift in style depending on the genders of the performers on stage. All-female portions of theis performance tended to be more relaxed, graceful and focused on balanced, whereas the male vignettes were more muscular and athletic — in one instance, jumping through a series of metal rings positioned next to and on top of one another.
According to their website, the Dragons “represent the best of a time-honored tradition that began more than 27 centuries ago,’ and to that end, one could certainly detect a substantial amount of cultural texture in their performance. Much of the show was accompanied by classical Chinese music and the costumes and props were similarly accented. But every once and a while, especially during the more energetic segments, the scream of an electric guitar would rip through the formerly serene atmosphere.
The Golden Dragons, the first performers in the State Theater’s yearlong Family Series, drew hundreds upon hundreds of parents and children to downtown Ithaca for the death-defying performance. Many of the stunts drew audible “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd, and at the end the troupe received a standing ovation from audience members, many of them too young and too tiny to see over the seats.
The reaction to the show I’ll always remember was that of a five-year-old boy, who stood in the aisle afterwards, pressing his hands up to his head, awe-struck and mouth open as if to say “WOW.” In the end, no words can really describe the Golden Dragons’ show.