The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra with the Peking Acrobats
Conducted by Ron Spigelman
Friday and Saturday in Artpark, Lewiston.
Saturday night's collaboration between the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the famed Peking Acrobats was breathtaking. Literally.
At several points during the two-hour show, the audience had no choice but to hold its breath as the seemingly foolhardy acrobats accomplished nearly flawless feats of balance that escape the best special effects films. These guys would laugh at Jackie Chan.
After a relatively tame and playful opening act, the show got increasingly improbable with each number. Loud gasps and involuntary hand-to-mouth reactions were unavoidable.
As the BPO and the troupe's own astounding orchestra played traditional Chinese music and selections from Ravel and others, the traveling troupe juggled vases with their feet, rode unicycles on the top of umbrellas, played jump rope with each other and balanced at dangerous heights on precariously stacked chairs.
"And I have trouble balancing my checkbook," said conductor Ron Spigelman before he led the orchestra into a somewhat playful rendition of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" from "Die Walkure," one of two musical interludes from the orchestra.
The level of skill and the sheer improbability of what these athletes accomplish on the stage is no small feat. In China, there are about 100,000 students training to be acrobats. Most will travel on to small regional troupes, with only the very best going on to join the Peking Acrobats, the country's largest and most impressive acrobatic troupe.
The range of acts in the troupe's repertoire is equally impressive. At points, the show seemed more like a beautiful ballet than an acrobatic spectacle, as in a magical piece with half a dozen women spinning six white plates on sticks to eerily enchanting traditional Chinese music -- an effect that looked like butterflies flitting all around the stage in intricate patterns.
At other points, the show seemed like a frenzied carnival. But no matter the style, the acrobats always carried an assured grace and exacting physicality.
There were a few minor mistakes (a couple dropped plates, a slip here and there), and one major one, which sent a pole hurtling into the audience. Fortunately, before anyone lost an eye, an alert spectator caught it and slid it back onstage. But a few missteps are unavoidable in a show so heavily steeped in unbelievable acrobatic prowess.
The BPO's playful style under the direction of Spigelman lent a sense of excitement to the evening. They blended perfectly with the troupe's own orchestra of half a dozen or so to create an infectious atmosphere and the perfect backdrop for the acrobats.
Perhaps their biggest feat was how they kept their eyes on the music.