Shenyang 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 Shenyang Acrobatic Troupe

Based in Shenyang, in the Province of Liaoning, China, the Shenyang Acrobatic Troupe was created on September 1, 1951. It is one of the most awarded acrobatic troupes in China, with three Gold Medals at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in Paris, two Silver Clowns at the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo and the First Prize and the Grand Prize at the Circuba Festival in Cuba (as of 2011). It also won a host of major awards in national acrobatic festivals and competitions.

In 1972, while it toured the United States, the troupe was received by President Nixon and his wife at the White House, prior to the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the U.S. It has also toured extensively in Asia, Australia, Europe and the Americas. The Shenyang Acrobatic Troupe's most celebrated performers include Cai Shaowu, Bai Xiaoying, Han Ming, Zhu Anbao, and Zhang Gongli.

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