Golden Dragon Acrobats bring historic moves to the Phillips Center on Saturday


Published: Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 12:08 p.m.

Entertainment is a fickle beast. Tastes change with the wind, not to mention technology. And what was once a popular diversion is now a relic of history. Think of it - when was the last time you went to a vaudeville show? Or, imagine showing your great-grandfather a Nintendo Wii.

So, perhaps there is no modern equivalent to the Golden Dragon Acrobats. The Chinese acrobatic troupe practices an art that is more than 25 centuries old, and will perform at the Phillips Center Saturday.

Acrobatics, known then as the "100 Entertainments," flourished during the Han Dynasty in China. During that period, everyone from peasants to the Emperor himself would enjoy acrobatic shows. And, while the world of today could not possibly be more different from the world of 200 B.C., the acrobatic arts provided a common thread throughout history, connecting the past to the present.

The Golden Dragon Acrobats are widely regarded as one of the finest troupes in China, and much of that reputation comes from the choreography of Angela Chang.

"Personally, I'm just a dancer, not an acrobat, so I'm just learning acrobatics from my husband Danny," Chang says in a telephone interview.

The company has been in the hands of Danny and Angela Chang for about 30 years. "My husband, he was an acrobat when he was young," she says.

"He always had a high interest in the acrobat business. I learned from him. He has toured the whole world, at least 46 countries. He'll pick up the performers, and we will work together to decide which style to present each individual act."

Chang selects the performers from acrobatic schools in China, which require the students to undergo rigorous training.

"In early morning, they will do the basic handstand training and then take a break," Chang says. "Then there is a morning class between 9 a.m. and noon. In the afternoon, they take a two-hour break. Then, they will have afternoon training until 5:30 p.m., and evening training if necessary from the individual coach. Pretty much, it's the whole day training."

That training lasts, on average, about 10 years.

Watching the Golden Dragon Acrobats perform, it is easy to understand why such intense training is necessary. The acrobats must perform stunts that require almost superhuman strength and dexterity, which puts their bodies in a constant state of risk.

"That's the real concern, and it's the part we have to watch very closely," Chang says. "Tour life, there's very limited time that the performers can warm up. In school, they can practice all day long. Pretty much, we try to give them enough time to keep their body in a good condition so they can just concentrate on the show."

The show seems to have been a major influence on the Cirque du Soleil, and like that French-Canadian acrobatic troupe, the Golden Dragon Acrobats have found a devoted fan base in America.

"American audiences, they always cheer," Chang says. "They always stand up and give us big, warm applause."

For Chang and the acrobats, that appreciation makes the job worthwhile. "Sometimes, after the show, we stand in the lobby and we can hear kids telling their parents or grandparents, 'Oh, that's amazing. I want to try that,'" she says.

"That's really lovely to hear."

Golden Dragon Acrobats

What: Chinese troupe comprised of <0x000A>athletes, actors and artists

Where: Phillips Center, 315 Hull Road

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $20-30 (392-2787)

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