Zhejiang 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 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, for the most part) 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 Zhejiang Folk Art & Acrobatics General Troupe
Established in 1997, the Zhejiang Folk Art & Acrobatics General Troupe is located in Hangzhou, the capital of the Province of Zhejiang. Its predecessor, the Zhejiang Opera Troupe, established in 1959, specialized in Suzhou Pingtan (story telling and ballad singing), which originated in Suzhou 400 years ago and is performed in Suzhou dialect. (Known as the "Venice of the Orient", Suzhou is renowned for its beautiful Grand Canal, pagodas, and classical gardens. It is located close to Hangzhou, which is itself a famous touristic destination). Chinese Opera, it must be known, includes an important acrobatic element.
The troupe began to expand in 1993, adding a troupe specializing in the performance of Chinese farces. In 1996, it began to enroll acrobatic talent and in February 1997, it became the Zhejiang Folk Art & Acrobatics General Troupe, after approval by the Zhejiang Provincial Editorial Board and Department of Culture. The troupe has since been a comprehensive provincial performing entity with a total of 160 performers, and includes the Zhejiang Opera Troupe, the Zhejiang Acrobatic Troupe, the Zhejiang Farce Troupe, and the Zhejiang Star Performance Company.
In 2005, it was awarded the title of "National Advanced Unit in Culture" by the National Ministry of Personnel and the Ministry of Culture. In May 2010, it became one of the first restructured troupes among Zhejiang provincial art troupes, and its official name was then changed into Zhejiang Folk Art & Acrobatics General Troupe Co., Ltd.
The company annually gives an average of 2,000 performances in China, and 100 performances abroad. The newly established Zhejiang Acrobatic Troupe has won Gold and Silver Medals at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain, the top prizes at Golden Circus Festival in Italy, a Chapiteau de Cristal at the Festival International du Cirque de Massy in 2009, the first prize at the 4th Russia International Circus Festival in 2009, and has obtained two Guinness World Records Certificates.
- Video: Zhejiang Acrobatic Troupe, foot juggling, at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in Paris (2017)[[