Shandong Acrobatic Troupe

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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 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 Shandong Acrobatic Troupe

The Acrobatic Troupe of the Shandong Province (on the east coast of China, south of Beijing) was founded in June 1959. In the 1990s, the Shandong Acrobatic Troupe began to tour extensively abroad; its gifted acrobats have performed in Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, Laos, Indonesia, India, Singapore, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Hungary, Italy, Austria, Russia, Romania, the Czech Republic, Canada, the United States, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela.

Over more than fifty years, the Troupe has gathered an impressive collection of national and international awards, including two Gold Clown awards at the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo in 1984 and in 1997; the Golden Lion award at the Wuqiao International Acrobatic Festival in 1995; and the Bronze Bear award at the International Circus Festival of Moscow in 1996. Their award-winning bicycle act (Monte Carlo, 1997) is mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records for its human pyramid on a single bicycle. In 1998, the Shandong Acrobatic Troupe participated in the opening ceremonies staged in Europe for the Walt Disney feature film, Mulan.

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