Whenever the Golden Dragon Acrobats come to town, audiences clamor for tickets -- many making these performances an annual family event. Such will be the case when Strathmore hosts the amazingly skilled athletes and artists Thursday evening in the D.C. premiere of the group's newest show, "Cirque Ziva."

But what is it, exactly, about this centuries-old Chinese art form that people find so mesmerizing, almost intoxicating?

"An acrobatic show is like a silent language," explained Angela Chang, who, in addition to being the troupe choreographer, works with her husband, producer and artistic director, Danny Chang. "When you see the acrobats, you understand. There is really a direct connection with the audience sitting in the theater -- they make contact with the acrobats directly."

"Cirque Ziva," with its new program, challenges the 24 performers in amazing feats of balance and unprecedented contortion acrobatics, gymnastics and choreography.

'Cirque Ziva'
» Where: The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda
» When: 8 p.m. Thursday
» Info: $25 to $45; 301-581-5100; strathmore.org

"This year, we have several new acts, such as the Rope Dance and the Wheels," Chang continued. "And for the girls, we have hip balancing. We also want to present the contortionists. They're very beautiful ... the way they twist their bodies. One person twists her body into a 'Z'!"

The Golden Dragon Acrobats are natives of Cangzhou, Hebei Province, in China. Founded in 1967, they have toured the United States continuously since 1985. The group averages an unbelievable 200 performances each year, and its members are constantly practicing the show and other routines while on the road.

The group's producer and artistic director, Danny Chang, is the son of Golden Dragon Acrobats Founder Lien Chi Chang. He began his training at the age of 7 under his father's tutelage before taking full control of the Golden Dragon Acrobats in 1984. Danny and Angela make periodic visits back to China to audition new performers. The average age for the group members is 17 years old. Great care goes into choosing the artists; each must have their particular talents -- along with their personalities -- assessed to make certain the right person is qualified for the multiple skills needed to perform each show's varied repertoire.

Having done all the work leading up to a performance, it is now only for the audience to sit back and enjoy the fast-paced show that is complemented with sleek colorful costumes, evocative lighting and powerful music.