By Alan Krawitz
From the Cirque Du Soleil-inspired human pyramids to frenetic unicyclists circling the stage while playing catch with wide-brimmed hats, the Golden Dragon Acrobats brought their own brand of hot, summer entertainment to Flushing Meadows Corona Park’s Queens Theatre.
Direct from Heibei, China and led by founder/creator Danny Chang, the venerable Golden Dragon Acrobats Troupe opened a special month-long engagement at the Queens Theatre last week before a small audience of about 100.
The Golden Dragons, internationally acclaimed for their award-winning acrobatics, traditional dance and combination of both traditional and contemporary music have performed around the world in more than 65 countries as well as in all 50 states. The acrobats represent a long-standing tradition that began more than 25 centuries ago.
According to the group’s website, the Golden Dragons are the only Chinese acrobatic company to tour year-round in the United States.
“Unbelievable talent,” is the way Rob Gottlieb of West Hempstead, described at intermission the acrobats’ performance. “It is just unreal that people can have so much talent and be so precise with movements,” he said, commenting on some of the acrobats’ more daring feats.
In particular, Gottlieb was especially impressed by an act where a lone acrobat performed handstands atop a sequentially higher and higher stack of wooden chairs that nearly reached the theatre’s ceiling at least 50 feet above the stage.
During that act, the tension in the theatre was palpable as the acrobat kept going higher and would periodically ask the audience, “One more chair?” He was given a standing ovation as he completed his final handstand, atop six wooden chairs.
“All of our performers take great pride in their acts and they constantly work on them… for their own safety and also to minimize any and all mistakes,” said Angela Chang, the show’s choreographer/costume designer and also wife of 32 years to troupe founder Danny Chang.
Chang said that despite the acrobats’ relative youth — the average age of an acrobat is 17—most have anywhere from seven to 10 years of experience performing.
“My husband Danny started out as an acrobat himself when he was only 7 years old,” Chang recalled.
In fact, founder Danny Chang served as an apprentice acrobat under his father Lien Chi Chang for nearly 17 years before taking the reins of the Golden Dragon Acrobats in 1985 and taking the troupe around the world.
Chang’s father, Lien Chi, actually founded the Chinese Golden Acrobats in 1967 and toured mainland China and Taiwan with his own group of acrobats.
Discussing the troupe’s rigorous schedule, Angela said that the group currently does two shows per day, five days per week in addition to several hours of practice on non-show days.
After Queens, the troupe will travel to Virginia, California and Colorado as they continue with their year-long United States tour.
While Angela handles the choreography for all of the acts, she gets assistance from her husband in selecting the traditional and contemporary Chinese music to accompany the acts.
“Danny painstakingly selects all of the music,” she said. “Choosing the right music… and synchronizing the music to fit each part of each act is what really drives Danny crazy.”
Other noteworthy acts included acrobats diving through the air through rings of various heights in addition to a sequence where all 16 of the group’s cast converged on-stage and proceeded to throw hats up in the air, juggle and jump rope.
“It was great,” said Alexandra from Astoria. “The hats were so entertaining.”
Commenting on the various skill levels for some of the acts, Angela Chang said, “For the boys, the hoop diving was among the most difficult. For the girls, juggling the umbrellas with their feet was pretty hard.”
Chang added that the troupe is very much a family atmosphere and that while mistakes during live performances can’t be avoided, help is never far away.
“If a performer misses a part of an act, Danny works personally with all performers to improve,” she said. “The performers take their craft very seriously. We rarely have to tell a performer they need to get better,” Chang said.
The Golden Dragon Acrobats have toured North America continuously since 1985, including numerous shows featured in theme parks across the United States for many years.
The acrobatic troupe restructured itself in 1998 and formed Asian Artists Production, Inc. or AAPI. Since then, AAPI continued to produce the Golden Dragon Acrobats and also created productions for other markets including the Amazing Chinese Acrobats, Circo Magnifico, Dream, Pagoda and Cirque D’or, among others.
The Golden Dragon Acrobats will perform at the Queens Theatre in Flushing Meadows Corona Park until August 4 with performances Wednesday through Saturday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. and on Sunday at 3 p.m. For tickets or more information visit www.queenstheatre.org, call (718) 760-0064 or visit the Queens Theatre box office Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m–6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.–3 p.m.