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Shanghai - Chinese Acrobatics

Acrobats, Chinese acrobatic, Chinese acrobatics, Chinese acrobats show, Chinese acrobats shows, Chinese acrobats
tour, Chinese circus Shanghai, Chinese circus, Chinese culture

Chinese acrobatics

From Wuhan, Shanghai and other cities in China. The art performers from the Wuhan acrobatic group pictured her are part of the -creme de la creme- of Chinese acrobatic performance.

But they are not alone, acrobatic art has a long tradition in China and come in a wide variety, read on.  

They fly through swinging hoops like human javelins

and undulate like strings of beads; they're as flexible as a Slinky and as strong as an iron bar.

They are Chinese acrobats, and lest you think this is an exaggeration, consider the 14-year-old girl who can bend backward, put her head between her ankles and rest her chin and chest on the floor without moving her feet.

Or the young woman who does a handstand on her partners shoulders and curves her body into a C-shape while she balances a bowl on each foot and her head and then is tossed to

the shoulders of another partner without losing a bowl.

The Chinese aren't alone in being capable of amazing feats of contortion and agility, but they alone have raised acrobatics to an art form and cultural icon.

When you come to China -- and you probably will -- somewhere among the ancient temples and seam-bursting meals, every visitor should make time to see an acrobatics performance.
Wuhan Acrobat Group - a Pyramid for fiveWuhan Acrobat Group - a Pyramid for six

China claims to be the birthplace of acrobatics,

and every third town in the countryside would have you believe that is where it all started. Acrobatics began more than 2,500 years ago either with bored farmers looking for something to do after the harvest was in or early soldiers showing off their physical prowess between battles -- depending on which story you prefer.
Wuhan Acrobat Group - a new girl sculpture
Whatever its beginnings, acrobatics troupes are as ubiquitous as teahouses but their incredible routines haven't diminished in the glutted market.

Acrobatics in China are astounding. It's a profession in which the human body is pushed far beyond what nature intended. At one time the only popular entertainment approved by Mao Tse-tung and his watchdogs of public morality, acrobatics flourished while other forms of enjoyment withered away. And while Chinese audiences are rather blasť about the physical accomplishments of their brothers and sisters, for most of us, acrobatics literally take our breath away.

Ballet? Hardly. Excitement, definitely.

It's impossible to say one group is the best, but one of the most exciting is the Guangdong Acrobatic Troupe of China, which is in its second frenetic version of "Swan Lake". It is not a performance for purists; there is little of the classic ballet on this stage.
Wuhan Acrobat Group - at the Wuhan International Festival

Instead, technology and artistry, accompanied by a raucous sound track, come together in a loose version of &qus. After another year or two they are capable of performing in a group act or, in the case of the extremely flexible young women, standing on their own.
Wuhan Acrobat Group - a new girl sculpture 1

Tang Bing Bing, one of the three dancing frogs in the Guangzhou troupe, started when he was 6 because his father had pegged him as a little troublemaker and thought the discipline of acrobatics would keep him on the straight and narrow. He was one of the lucky ones because the Guangzhou troupe has its own training system and he started at an age when much of the training came easily.

He still has a glint of the naughty little boy in his eye when he talks about how his father inadvertently set him on the path of his boisterous career, but he says he loves what he does and hopes to continue for a long time.

Tang dances on his hands with a cap on his head painted to look like a frog's face and flippers on his feet. While this takes a lot of strength and agility, it isn't as demanding as some of the other acts, which require years of painful training. Even so, every performance takes its toll. Every night, backstage resembles an orthopedic clinic. Performers who moments before were flinging themselves around the stage in almost impossibly timed precision are now walking around bent over in pain with ice packs and herbal wraps on various parts of their bodies. There is no moaning or looking for sympathy. This is all part of the job, and while they may require help getting to their cabs, tomorrow night they will be back, performing as if they hadn't a bone or a nerve in their bodies.

Tang, who is 19, has been performing for 10 years and already realizes his future will require some changes. He says that in a few years he may have to change to an easier act, but he has every intention of continuing. "What else would I do?" he asks. Indeed, where does a man who spends most nights on his hands in a frog suit go after his dancing days are through?

Every performer is trained for and takes part in several acts during a performance. It is a form of social security for their old age. Multiple skills allow performers at the ripe old age of 19 to

consider shifting to easier acts when their aches and pains force them to give up the more demanding tasks.

Tang may be more fortunate than many whose bodies take a beating from the time they enter training as children until they hang up their frog suits or leotards. He believes that the length of an acrobat's career depends on how much passion he or she has for the work, but clearly it also depends on how much physical abuse the human body can take.

One of the finest acrobatics offerings in the world is the Wuqiao International Acrobatics Festival

held every other year in Shijiazhuang (She jia jwong), capital city of Hebei (Herbay) Province not far from Beijing. This two-week-long festival brings together the best acts from all over the world in a spectacular new theater built solely for the event. This year's festival included acts from Hungary, Vietnam, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Spain, Brazil, Mongolia, Sweden, the U.S., Cuba, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belgium, the Netherlands and Mongolia, as well as the local favorites. The festival is an international competition so only top contenders come to this smoky, gray industrial city on the flat plain of northern China at the end of October every two years. It is held only in odd number years so visitors who come for the Olympics will miss out. It is an easy side trip from Beijing and since Shijiazhuang has nothing else to offer, it is best to get out of town as soon as possible.

In China, everyone is an acrobat in the way American children are cowboys and firemen. There are more than 200 troupes throughout the country and you are never far from a performance. In Beijing, visitors can catch performances at three major venues -- China Acrobatics Troupe, Beijing Municipal Acrobatics Troupe and the Railway Cultural Work Troupe. Shanghai's professional acrobats go through their paces every night in their own theater. Hebei, Henan, Yunnan and Sichuan provinces have strong acrobatics cultures, but there is usually something going on in every province. Acts are constantly being updated so the crowds keep coming back for more.

Many tour groups from the United States. now include acrobatics performances on their itineraries. If yours doesn't, play hooky one evening and take in a show. You can't take pictures, but it will definitely give you something to talk about.

ANG Newspapers. Cannot be used or repurposed without prior written permission.
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

They look as fragile as porcelain, these little China dolls. But they are as flexible as elastic and very strong. Did I mention they are also drop-dead cute?

The Chinese children's acrobatic troupe that puts on shows several times daily in front of the Chinese pavilion in the World Showcase at Disney's Epcot are athletically gifted and supremely entertaining. The youngsters, all between the ages of 9 and 12, are students from the Pu Yang School for Acrobats and come to Epcot to perform and improve their stage skills (they also attend school while here).

The tiny dynamos achieve fabulous feats, from scampering up 30foot poles to balancing three trays of water glasses while doing somersaults. At the end of each performance the little entertainers shake hands with the audience-a nice East-West moment of friendship.

The show is one of more than 30 entertainment vignettes that are offered at the World Showcase in Epcot. The schedule of performances is listed in the map you receive when you enter the park. The variety of possibilities is seemingly endless-from British rock 'n' roll bands to French mimes, Canadian bagpipers to Japanese drummers, American fife-and-drum corps to Mexican mariachis.

All of this pageantry comes as a delightful bonus for visitors who come to Epcot's World Showcase expecting to see only the pavilions and exhibits of the 11 countriesJapan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, United States, Germany, China, Norway, and Mexico-represented in the sprawling complex. The pavilions are all nicely done, and all present intriguing looks at foreign lands.

But it is the street performers who surprise and delight strollers.

At the United Kingdom, for example, an energized group of fauxBeatles blast out tunes from the sixties in a show called "The British Invasion." Parents get a really good chance to embarrass their children as they suddenly revert to childhood themselves and begin dancing to such memorable tunes as "Love Potion Number 9," "Help!," and "Catch Us If You Can." While the kids redden at the sight of their parents acting like kids, they can take solace from Mary Poppins, who is usually walking through the English gardens to the side of the stage.

Another racket is going on at the Canadian pavilion, as a lone bagpiper, resplendent in light blue tartan kilt, blasts out a few moving tunes of his own. And over at Mexico, a raucous band of 11 musicians entertains crowds in the marketplace.

There are many fun surprises around every corner, including The French Living Statues that suddenly stir and scare the heck out of you, if you aren't prepared. The Japanese Matsuriza performers, who play huge drums larger than truck tires, are favorites with most visitors, and even those who hate mimes (count me in) will enjoy the innovative mime at France who performs inside a huge plastic rolling bubble.

The next time you're at the World Showcase in Epcot, enjoy the big shows-but take a some time to be enchanted by the small ones too. Especially the little people who perform so brilliantly at China.
Author Michael Carlton  Walt Disney World's Epcot: One-- day tickets are $42 adults, $34 ages 3-9; (407) 824-4321. Web site:

Copyright Southern Progress Corporation
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

Dance: Look no wires " roll up for 'Crouching Tiger', circus style

Before the days when ordinary people could afford airline tickets to faraway places, the circus was where you went for your dose of the exotic. And there is something bracingly old-fashioned about promoter Phillip Gandey's latest import from China, a focus on human skills, human scale and human difference that runs directly counter to the homogenising special-effects culture of today.

Spectators brought up on cinematic images of warring mammoths and walking trees might not immediately rate the prospect of watching two men perform inside a lion suit, or a woman appear in a series of delicate masks without perceptibly removing any of them. But no one is pretending that the lion is real or the faces are magic. What we're asked to admire is the skill that enables two bodies to unite in a single, fluid animal form, or a hand to deceive the eye. The phenomenon is both physical and cultural " impossible to contemplate attempting oneself, entirely alien in concept, but utterly charming for its low-tech assumptions and high-level skills. The traditional Chinese music helps the seduction.

The name of this circus is misleading. It's not a single performing entity supported by the People's Republic, but a selection of acts from as many as seven different state-sponsored acrobatic groups ranged across the great landmass that is China. These acts draw on distinct traditions of performance: a region known for its pottery generates a team of urn-jugglers; a steel- manufacturing region produces a strongman bending medieval warheads; there are appearances from characters of the Peking Opera, and the show is compered by folklore's Monkey King, half court-jester, half deranged chimp. A male and female voice-over (in English with a pleasing Mandarin twang) introduce the acts and fill in some of the 2,000-year history.

Most unusual of all in this context are displays of martial arts from acolytes of the Shaolin Temple, one of the Kung-Fu schools closely associated with Zen Buddhism, though anyone who has seen these saffron-robed 'warriors' perform in their own displays will hardly to be surprised to see them enlist as a circus act. Activities such as 'Shaolin Fighting On Tree Tops' is pure action- adventure, with the sturdy, shaven-headed boys wrestling and leaping with incredible speed and precision from atop a set of wooden posts " a scene that might be a clip from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, except that this is for real.

I confess to a deep discomfort when the same boys sit cross- legged on stage and enter a state of meditation. It seems somehow shabby to drag in the spiritual dimension to be gawped at by a paying public amid swirls of dry ice and a crescendo of rock guitars. The meditative state is preparation for acts of what appear to Westerners as bizarre self-inflicted violence: suffering a pile of bricks to be smashed over one's bare forehead, being crushed from above while lying on a bed of spikes, resisting the pressure of spearheads on the delicate flesh of the throat. These are gruesome enough torments in themselves. But the religious association coupled with the presence of an incredulous crowd puts me in mind of the public executions of English martyrs.

My favourite acts in the Chinese circus are in a more cheerful mode: the men who run up and down vertical poles and hang themselves sideways like flags in a breeze; the grinning slack-rope artist who manages a no- hands headstand on inch-wide wire, or the sleek boys in blue who fly like kingfishers through cardboard hoops. When one of them made an error and squashed the hoop into a ragged oval, before you could say 'chopsticks' a new hoop was in its place and the boy was retaking his target, to whoops of applause.


Human error has its place in this kind of circus. Yet I was struck by how few safety features seemed to be in place in the more apparently dangerous numbers. Had the strongman lost control of the outsized lump of rusty metal he was twirling like helicopter blades using only his neck-muscles, it felt like he would not only have decapitated himself, but a swathe of patrons in stalls A to D. Yet I am thrilled to find that such acts are still allowed. Better get down to the South Bank now before somebody changes their mind.

Author  Copyright Independent Newspapers UK Limited
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

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