Guangdong 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 Soldier Acrobatic Troupe of Guangzhou
The official name of what is known outside China as the Guangdong Acrobatic Troupe is in fact the Soldier Acrobatic Troupe of the Political Department of Guangzhou Military Region. Based in Guangzhou (Canton), in the province of Guangdong, the troupe is managed by the Chinese Army; all its acrobats are part of the military, and wear their uniforms on official occasions—but they are nonetheless professional acrobats whose sole occupation is to perform. The Soldier Acrobatic Troupe was founded in October l951.
The troupe is one of China's top acrobatic troupes, with 518 artists, a state-of-the-art theater in Gungzhou, and the most impressive collection of international awards in China: Seventeen of its acts won gold prizes in Paris (including three Prix du Président de la République), Monte Carlo (two Gold Clowns), Italy and Sweden, and thirteen other international awards (as of 2011). It has also produced some of the most lavish full-scale acrobatic shows in China.
The Guangdong Troupe has taken part in the making of fifteen documentaries and feature films, among which Heroes of Acrobatics, produced by the Phoenix Film Studio in the l980s. They have toured in fifty-five countries and regions, and given 115 performances overseas. In 1991, President Jiang Zemin granted the title of Model Artists to the performers of the troupe. Ning Geng, Lu Huiping, Wang Tianfan, Luo Baoshan, Gao Junsheng, Lin Xiong, Gao Wenxiu, Sun Peng, Cao Linbao and Yang Dong are among the most famous artists of the Guangdong Acrobatic Troupe.
- History: The Chinese Acrobatic Theater
- Video: The Guangdong Acrobatic Troupe, banquine act, 18th Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain, Paris (1995)