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Flips, Kicks and a Tower of Tricks: Formosa Circus Art’s “Taiwan: The Heart of Asia”

Last Tuesday night, as part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the Irvine Barclay Theatre hosted Formosa Circus Art, who performed “Taiwan: The Heart of Asia,” an acrobatics show celebrating the culture of Taiwan.

Settling into one of the top balcony seats, people filed into the theatre awaiting the show’s beginning. After an initial introduction of various VIPs and dignitaries that helped organize the performance, the show finally began as the lights faded.

The performance was principally divided into four parts. The first, “Island Voices,” was a mystical hymn involving choreographed dance as the whole troop slowly glided across the floor. Island costumes and glass balls created a strangely enchanting effect, with the focus mainly on the sole singer and the causal breakaway dancer from the large, cohesive unit, a replication of the island’s nature and its surrounding oceans.

The Formosa Circus Art performers use props, stage design and intricate movement to bring “Taiwan: The Heart of Asia” to life. Photo Courtesy of Formosa Circus Art.

The second, “Mountain Melodies,” focused on the emerging Hakka people of Formosa, with their traditional songs setting the backdrop of a story about farmers and their leisure time. A litany of flips and tricks echoed their causal sentiment and included everything from sequences of flag dancing, a group trading hats in the most bizarre fashion, and one particular farmer showing off feats of strength. To top it off, the final sequence created a leaning tower of chairs, with one acrobat consistently performing handstands on top of irregularly placed chairs, until finishing with one final handstand atop five stacked chairs.

The third act, “Past and Present,” combined notions of antiquity and modernity, an interplay of traditional island dress, suits and ties, illuminated diabolos, disco and 80’s pop music. The combination of Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much” alongside line dancing and a centerpiece of diabolos embodies a blending of moments of time.

The fourth and final act seemed to be split into multiple sequences, all loosely tied into the  theme of change. The central question, what the future will be and what current generations will leave for future ones, was embellished in avenues of isolation, love, rhythmic joy and innocence. A solo acrobatic ring performance provided power and movement with delineations between speed and intensity, while hula hoops and breakdancing emanated a simple joy for pure, rhythmic fascination. The highlight was an ice dancing routine between two acrobats — without the ice. The show culminated in a traditional song and an aerial silk performance.

Ultimately, the Formosa Circus Art’s show was a refreshing mix of acrobatics, Western and Eastern dance, and intricate fusions of music, creating a performance that enlightened stylistic interpretations of art. The performance’s complexity replicated the diversity of Taiwan’s cultural history, with the range of Taiwanese aborigines and tribes to the modern urban industrial sprawl never quite losing sight of nature’s beauty. Certainly, watching an intriguing dance is more illuminating than reading a history book.