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Diabolo: devilish fun with yo-yos

May 08, 2008|Donnell Alexander

When does the yo-yo -- the most analog toy this side of jacks-- play as a dynamic and contemporary diversion? When it's a diabolo -- the oversize, spool-shaped approach that evolved from 12th century Chinese yo-yos. Diabolists -- who actually have nothing to do with the worship of Satan -- live like pop sensations in Asia. Or at least they get adulation and sport the sorts of shiny, zany outfits that we stateside associate with stardom.

"There are annual competitions. Every elementary school has a team," says Thomas Wu. "A lot of children do it, but only the good ones get on the team. . . . It's like the orchestra. Instead of Nintendo, we prefer the children play diabolo."

Wu, a UCLA-trained singer who teaches orchestra at the Wu-Fu Elementary School in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, will bring his school's nationally recognized team of young diabolists to Disney's California Adventure Friday and TaiwanFest at downtown's El Pueblo de Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday. Wu had been slated to perform at the Taiwan festival when it occurred to him that Southern Californians should have a shot at witnessing his yo-yo specialists' glory.

"The principal [of Wu-Fu Elementary School] told me it would be very good if I took them abroad," explains Wu. "Lin Chang Yi, a sixth-grader, is leaving the school next year. He is the best in the country."

Diabolo -- derived from the Greek dia bolo, or "across throw" -- functions by having the giant spool spin on a string strung between two sticks. When this challenging pastime is done with precision, diabolists use their sticks that control the string almost like puppet masters. Multiple yo-yos can be manipulated on a single string, and tricks such as the Suicide (in which diabolists briefly let go of their sticks) and the Grind (balancing the yo-yo on the stick) are at the center of the best team shows. A team display is as skater-iffic as it sounds. Only with yo-yos.

Wu tried futilely to juggle a diabolo in his youth, only to discover that music was more his calling. His lack of yo-yo aptitude did not keep him from recognizing the awesome nature of the Wu-Fu team's accomplishment when it won the 2007 PEH CUP International Diabolo and Acrobatic Festival in Taipei. He worked with Kaohsiung's mayor to make the American journey happen.

TaiwanFest will also offer non-diabolo entertainment, such as a performance by the renowned Ten Drum Percussion -- a group that showcases a hybrid form of drumming -- and a traditional warrior dance by Song-Jiang Jhen Battle Array. Artisans and craftsmen will also create paintings, masks, sculpture and paper works as well as sell native aborigine Taiwan clothing. Come for the diabolo; stay for the fest.

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theguide@latimes.com

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WU-FU DIABOLO TEAM

WHERE: Hollywood Pictures Backlot at Disney's California Adventure, 1313 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim; TaiwanFest, 125 Paseo de la Plaza, L.A.

WHEN: 4 p.m. Fri. (California Adventure); 1:20, 2:30, 3:40, 4:40 p.m. Sat., 11:45 a.m., 12:55, 2:05, 3:30 p.m. Sun. (TaiwanFest)

PRICE: Free (California Adventure performance requires park admission, $56-$66).

INFO: (714) 781-4565 (Disney), (626) 307-5077; www.taiwanfest-la.org

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