The 27-year-old troupe carries on the celebrated ancient Chinese tradition of assuming pretzelesque positions. These particular performers make up the touring company of the perpetually sold-out Peking Acrobats. Under the direction of Ken Hai, a fourth-generation acrobat of the famed Hai Family acrobatic dynasty, the flexible ones pull out all the stops: blindfolded nosedives through rings of knives and fire, a Guinness Book-lauded chair act and some killer kung fu.
The fourteen acrobats began honing their craft at age six. When they were ten, the children auditioned for local companies to officially assume their careers for life. The troupe tours worldwide. Once upon a time, it even established a legacy as the opening act for Liberace, beginning with a gig in Las Vegas that apparently impressed the overblown ivory-tickler.
"Lee [Liberace] was over the top, but he was a really nice guy" recalls Hughes. Although neither Liberace nor the performers could understand one another's native tongues, everyone "understood the language of Lee's hands," says Hughes.
In the post-Liberace days, the acrobats have made appearances on That's Incredible as well as in pop-tart Mandy Moore's 2001 video In My Pocket and in the recent remake of Ocean's 11, starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
"It's a show that children and grandparents will both enjoy," says Hughes. But, he warns, "Children should not try this at home." That's probably good advice for gutsy grandmas as well.