They can bend their bodies in seemingly impossible ways. They can balance atop several stacked chairs, create human pyramids by placing themselves on top of one another and move gracefully while spinning numerous plates at once.
It's all based on a centuries-old tradition and if there is an act that clearly exemplifies the Carpenter Performing Arts Center's Wow! Series, it's the Peking Acrobats.
“They've been doing these feats and making people go ‘wow' with traditions that go back 2,000 years,” said Michele Roberge, executive director of the Carpenter Center.
The renowned group of young Chinese acrobats will return to the Long Beach venue Saturday with two performances that launch the troupe's North American tour.
The troupe will perform at the theater as part of the center's Wow! Series, which is made up of high-adrenaline shows. The acrobats will perform with Jigu! Thunder Drums of China, a company of drummers, percussionists and musicians from Shanxi Province in northern China.
“The drummers are amazing, you can really feel the beating of the drums inside your body,” said Cynthia A. Dike-Hughes, co-producer of the show along with her husband, Don Hughes.
The Peking Acrobats, made up of more than two dozen performers ranging in age from early teens to mid-20s, formed in 1986 and have toured all over the world. The troupe also has appeared on TV specials and with orchestras such as the San Francisco Symphony and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Their skills were also seen on the big screen when Peking Acrobats alumnus Qin Shaobo appeared in the 2001 remake of “Ocean's Eleven” and its sequels as Yen, the group's small but agile “grease man.”
The Peking Acrobats' daring acts, which include precision tumbling, high-air gymnastic moves, trick bicycling and plate spinning, are rooted in Chinese myths, history and folk art. The acrobatics originated from daily life as far back as a few hundred years B.C., according to the Peking Acrobats website. Everyday items like chairs and plates were used as props, and they continue to be a popular aspect of their performances.
“I'm a sucker for the plate spinners and how they can pile all those chairs on top of each other,” Roberge said.
The troupe members are recruited from various acrobatics schools in China. Those who show athletic promise can begin training when they're as young as 5 years old.
“Our assistant director travels from city to city and to different schools to locate the best performers. By the time they are about 15 to 16 they're ready to go professional,” Dike-Hughes said.
Tradition also requires the acrobats to add their own improvements to the moves. That means the show often offers something new even for those who have seen it before, the organizers say, although they are being tight-lipped about what new moves the Carpenter Center's audience may see.
“I'm still amazed by it,” said Hughes, the other co-producer. “You'll see acts come back with a different twist year after year.”
The Peking Acrobats
When: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach.
Information: 562-985-7000, www.carpenterarts.org