Zhengzhou Acrobatic Troupe
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 Show Of One Hundred Skills
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.
Historical records, carvings and mural paintings in tombs and grottoes (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 Zhengzhou Acrobatic Troupe Today
The Zhengzhou Acrobatic Troupe is one of the oldest municipal acrobatic troupes in China. Based in Zhengzhou, the capital of the Henan Province, it pre-dates the Communist revolution: It was created in 1937 on the principles of the Wuqiao Acrobatic Troupe by Dong Shunmian, an acrobat, and his wife Hu Guilan. In 1949, the troupe became part of the Chinese network of municipal and regional acrobatic troupes. It quickly distinguished itself in national and international competition, notably winning a Silver Clown at the 11th International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo with a chair-balancing act in 1985.
In the mid-1990s, following the opening of China to the Western world, the Zhengzhou Acrobatic Troupe began to adopt the new trends then permeating the Chinese Acrobatic Theater performances—inspired to a large extent by the style developed by the Canadian Cirque du Soleil, which had begun to use Chinese acrobats in its shows. Although Chinese specialty acts remained basically the same—albeit with an ever-increasing degree of difficulty—their presentation became included in lavishly staged productions, with costumes and music that took their distances from the old Chinese tradition.
Over the years, the Zhenzhou Acrobatic Troupe has gathered many national and international awards, including the Golden Lion at the International Acrobatic Festival of Wuqiao in 1997, and a Silver Medal at Paris’s Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in 2002. One of its most innovative acts is performed on swinging Chines poles. The troupe has also developed acts on German wheels and Roues Cyr. It has traveled extensively out of China, in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States.
- History: The Chinese Acrobatic Theater
- Video: Zhengzhou Troupe, bicycle act, at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain (2002)
- Video: Zhengzhou Troupe, swinging poles act, in the Big Apple Circus production of Step Right Up! (2006)
- Video: Zhengzhou Troupe, German wheels act, in the Big Apple Circus production of Step Right Up! (2006)