Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe

From Circopedia

Chinese Acrobatics

By Dominique Jando


The People's Republic of China is a multi-national country, an ancient civilization with a long history and a rich and brilliant culture. Over several millennia, its peoples have created many form of performing arts, each of them characterized by a host of schools and styles. They have followed, for centuries, a linear evolution aimed towards the extreme refinement of the skills involved in a particular art form.

Although China started contacts with non-Asian countries more than two thousand years ago, foreign influences were absorbed and rendered with a Chinese flavor for the sole benefitSpecial performance whose entire profit went to a performer; the number of benefits a performer was offered (usually one, but sometimes more for a star performer during a long engagement) was stipulated in his contract. Benefits disappeared in the early twentieth century. of that evolution. In this peculiarity lies the most important difference between Chinese and Western cultural traditions: The latter is more organic and open to new components, while the Chinese tradition aims towards the perfection of already known elements, and the integration of new elements into an existing mold.

The Chinese Acrobatic Theater followed the same development pattern. Whereas European and American circuses were in a constant search for novelties and new techniques (driven in part by commercial needs, especially in the United States), Chinese acrobats limited their repertoire (although it came to include over two hundred different specialties—which is quite a number in any respect), but they constantly improved their presentation and increased the level of difficulty of the tricks involved, always striving to reach an elusive perfection.

The Show Of One Hundred Skills

Historical records, carvings and mural paintings in tombs and grottos (such as the brick carvings discovered in the Han Dynasty tomb of Chengdu, in the Szechuan province) date the origins of Chinese Acrobatics more than two thousands years ago, during the Warring States period. They developed mostly during the Qin and Huan Dynasties (221 B.C.-230 A.D.) and reached a remarkable level of quality and refinement during the Western Huan Dynasty, evolving from a simple exhibition of skills into a performing art, with a rich and eclectic repertory including tumbling, balancing, plate spinning, pole balancing, rope dancing, etc. This acrobatic performance was known as The Show of One Hundred Skills.

After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese government, following its policy of "Let a hundred flowers blossom and weed through the old to bring forth the new," brought about a spectacular renaissance of the Acrobatic Theater. Acrobatic troupes were created in each province and every major city, and were given their own theaters. The teaching was (and still is) done within the troupe, old performers training the new generation. These troupes experienced a serious setback during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1969), but only to see their vitality soaring afterward.

The Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe was created in 1951in the city of Shanghai, located in the Yangtze River Delta in East China. Shanghai is China's largest city, and was and still is its main economic center, a situation that has given the troupe a prominent place in the Chinese acrobatics world. Like many other acrobatic troupes, it has extensively toured internationally.

The Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe Today

In the mid-1990s, following the opening of China to the Western world and the liberalization of its economy, Shanghai reclaimed its place as a major international business and economic center, and at the same time, a major tourist destination. The Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe has therefore become one of the most visible of all Chinese acrobatic troupes, performing regularly elaborate productions at several important venues in the city, including Shanghai Circus World, a state-of-the-arts circus building. Its performers also continue to tour internationally, some of its acts participating in major European shows and circus festivals.

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