Gravity is so taken for granted that it’s amazing how quickly you can become convinced that it doesn’t even exist while watching a traditional Chinese circus troupe defy it in a series of spectacular air-painting exhibitions with human bodies. Only an occasional look of concern or sudden unexpected movement as a performer strives to regain balance, makes a small and rare misstep or finds that an object or muscle is being momentarily stubborn gives the slightest clue that they are not working in a weightless environment. This exquisite kind of entertainment is millennia old in China and is completely devoid of the kind of staunch attention to individual and ego that characterizes Western acrobatics and dance and finds its highest artistic form in Chinese opera where it is employed to tell stories that rely heavily on ferocious live stage action set to music while the story itself is sung. And native performers such as those who are gracing Navy Pier for the entire summer begin mastering their art as small children and spend years in pursuit of the physical perfection and repetition-until-movements-become-second-nature that are required for this art form to appear as deceptively simple and easy as they make it seem. Elaborate and colorful costumes and props and traditional Chinese music are important aspects as well, though the troupe is not afraid to have fun lampooning our Cubs vs. Sox rivalry by having an entire acrobatic “Anything you can do I can do better” contest in team uniforms. Despite a distracting narration and host that are as inane as the performances are sublime, this is jaw-dropping family entertainment. (Dennis Polkow)
Navy Pier’s Pepsi Skyline Stage, 600 E. Grand, (312)902-1500. $12.50-$24.95. Through September 3.