Chi's American premiere is Wednesday in Gainesville

Troupe marries Shanghai and Taoist traditions. The result is a combination of trapeze stunts, hoops, balancing acts and more.

Chi's 40-member troupe will weave acrobatics and martial arts into a two-hour show at the Center for the Performing Arts. Chi's Gainesville appearance will be its American premiere and kicks off a two-month tour that will cover 24 cities.

Courtesy of Chi
Published: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 1:40 a.m.

Chi, a troupe fusing Chinese acrobatics and martial arts, bounds into Gainesville Wednesday to unleash a U.S. premiere. And Michael Blachly, for one, is elated.

" (It's) very significant," said Blachly, director of University of Florida Performing Arts. "Whenever a community has a premiere performance, it allows the signature of the artist to begin here. It allows Gainesville to be at the same level as a New York or a Los Angeles."

On Wednesday, the Gainesville audience will be the first in North America to watch the new Chi show when it lands at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

Blachly said premieres tend to be held in metropolitan cities. But since coming to Gainesville from UCLA in 2000, he has been trying "to elevate our program to that cosmopolitan level." And within those four years, there has been at least one premiere per season at the Phillips Center.

In fact, the decision to premiere the new Chi show in Gainesville was made because of Blachly, said Mark Maluso, manager of the Chi American tour and vice president of IMG Artists.

"(He's) very supportive of new projects," Maluso said. Plus, he said Blachly offers performers extra days to set up and for technical work, which is especially important for premiere performances.

"The Phillips Center is a great place to perform," he said. "One wants to do a premiere in a friendly environment and not so incredibly media critical."

For Gainesville, this means a two-hour performance showcasing trapeze stunts, hoops, balancing on chairs and more.

"Audiences can expect to see a very high level of Shanghai tradition married to a martial arts Taoist tradition, which is very different than your average acrobatics show," Maluso said. The 40-member troupe meshes its strength with spirituality, bringing their bodies in sync with their minds.

"Chi" means "energy" or "breath" - a perfect balance between the yin and the yang in Taoist philosophy.

"Chinese acrobatics is a very, very spectacular use of bodily acrobats and bodily strengths," Blachly said.

"I hope that people can see how the Chinese acrobatics tradition can be presented in a much more artistic way, not just a demonstration," Maluso said. "Chi is a fully produced and choreographed and stimulating theatrical experience."

The resulting two-month tour will cover 24 cities, ending in Maui.

Gainesville is no stranger to performance premieres. In recent years, there have been world premieres from pianist Emanuel Ax and the king'singers , as well as Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer. And in 2002, Japanese taiko drum ensemble Kodo kicked off its American "One Earth" tour at the Phillips Center.

UFPA also co-commissioned Alonso King's Lines Ballet in "People of the Forest" and Laurie Anderson's work "Happiness." Additionally, the theatrical-dance production AEROS was created at UF before embarking for other venues.

"What we are saying is we are going to bring the best of the world to Gainesville," Blachly said. "And audiences have been very responsive."

Blachly said western audiences have embraced contemporary acrobatic performances, sparking a resurgence in the art. He cited last year's Shaolin Warriors tour, by the same producers, in addition to Cirque du Soleil, a wildly popular mix of acrobatics, circus arts and street entertainment that has proliferated into permanent venues worldwide.

But, he contends, Chi is something that has not been seen before. "There is a lot of energy in these performances," he said, noting audiences can expect to see dance, acrobatics and "incredible forms of balance."

A pre-performance discussion will be led by UF associate professor Kelly Cawthon, director of the Florida Mod Project and principal dancer with Shapiro & Smith Dance Company.

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