Flag Circus of China
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 Flag Circus of China Today
Founded in 1952, the Flag Circus of China is an acrobatic troupe of the Chinese Army. Based in Kunming, in the Yunnan Province, southwest of China, it is one of the country's most creative and innovative acrobatic troupes—and a true trendsetter in the world of Chinese acrobatics (and in the circus world in general) thanks to its extremely talented artistic director, Li Xi Ning, who is not averse to staging acts sometimes for other Chinese acrobatic troupes. In 1994, the Flag Circus produced the spectacular Golden Southwest Wind, the first Chinese acrobatic show staged with a specific theme. The Flag Circus has also produced a special show for Shanghai’s World Expo in 2010. Abroad, the Flag Circus has performed in Cirque du Soleil’s “Dralion”, and its troupe has toured extensively in Asia, North and South America, Europe, and Africa. The Flag Circus has won many awards in international circus festivals, notably at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in Paris. The troupe was named “Ambassador of Friendship” by the Chinese government.