China 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 forms 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 China Acrobatic Troupe Today
Based in Beijing, the China Acrobatic Troupe was founded in October 1950, and was known in its early days as the New China Troupe. The troupe has accumulated an impressive collection of international awards in circus festivals and acrobatic competitions, including a total of seven gold medals in the circus festivals of Budapest, Monte Carlo, Russia, Poland, and Paris. In national acrobatic competitions the China Troupe has garnered four Gold and seven silver medals or prizes. Since 1994, the troupe has also created seven large-scale acrobatic shows, including Tianqiao Scenes in Old Beijing, Ancient Chinese Myths, and Floral Rainbow. One of these shows, Chinese Soul, won seven awards in the Beijing New Drama and Program Competitions from 1996-99.
The China Acrobatic Troupe has toured extensively around the world, and its acts have participated in several circus productions in Europe. The troupe has cultivated generations of famous acrobats, among whom such artists as Yang Xiaoting, Pi Defu, Guan Yuhe, Cheng Liaobao, Qin Bin, Jin Yeqin, He Shuwang, Zhang Guosheng, Zi Jifa, Jin Zhen, Yin Yuhong, Chen Linben, Cheng Shaolin, Wang Guiying, Song Huiling, Sun Lili, Wang Jiamin, Qi Fenglin, Luo Bingsong, Zhang Shaojie, You Dongsheng and Chang Junju (as of 2012).
- Video: China Acrobatic Troupe, porter-lancer act, at Circus Kronebau (2004)
- Video: China Acrobatic Troupe, diabolo act, at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain (2005)
- Video: China Acrobatic Troupe, hand balancing Act, at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain (2014)
- History: The Chinese Acrobatic Theater