Promotional photo courtesy of Capitol International Productions Inc.

On Sept. 7, in the Student Union, a gymnast did handstands. As if it were too easy, he began to try something a little more daring–balancing on top of chairs. One chair after another, the gymnast would lift, then push himself up, and balance, feet in the air. At three chairs, the acrobat started to wobble. When he got to four, he almost fell: the other four acrobats present quickly jolted as if to catch him. For a moment he looked at the audience and shook his head. “No more,” his face told us. But his fellow members insisted he try again–it only took a few seconds for the chair to be sent back up his way for a second chance. This time, he succeeded, balancing completely upside down on the edge of his fourth chair. His feet grazed the ceiling; he wobbled slightly but held for a good minute and gently lowered himself down, smiling.

OK–so this was most definitely a gimmick made by the Kenyan-native Zuzu African Acrobats, the night’s performers, in order to captivate and even slightly frighten their audience for the night. But hey, gimmick or not, it worked, and the captivation lasted.

The Zuzu African Acrobats are a family business, which allowed them to get started captivating audiences and defying gravity early: The troupe is an all-male ensemble made up of five brothers and cousins, each of whom has been training in acrobatics since he was seven or eight years old. While originally from Mombasa, Kenya, the family now lives in the United States and performs all over the world. Some of the troupe’s most notable performances include shows for “America’s Got Talent,” the “Late Show with David Letterman,” the Super Bowl, several NBA shows and the Ringling Brothers Circus.

This show consisted of about 5 different acts, including the handstands, the limbo and jump rope. The jump rope portion featured members backflipping, front-flipping and doing push-ups, all within the rhythm of the rope.

Whether it was holding four acrobats using just hands, backflipping and handspringing throughout the stage or shuffling under a limbo pole, the Zuzu African Acrobats mesmerized their audience with strength, agility and a little bit of humor. It’s hard to believe that, considering all this technique, the troupe only prepares for about 30 minutes before each show.

After each act, members of the audience were coaxed into jumping onstage to see how high they could jump and how low they could go. Some audience members were lifted way up into the air by the acrobats, bending their bodies in ways they thought impossible, according to their faces. Some audience members, including one about 7-foot man, were invited to limbo under a pole 1-foot off the ground. Amazingly, he made it under (with a little help, of course).

By the end of the night, we may have accustomed ourselves to their gimmicks, but it didn’t stop us from laughing, gasping, cheering and dancing. Smiling throughout and accompanied by upbeat, percussive music, the Zuzu African Acrobats provided a show that radiated athleticism, risk and above all, joy.