THE ART OF TEA: Chinese acrobats present Chinese tea culture at the World Expo in Shanghai (ZHAO GE)
Acrobatics was among the first batch of Chinese art forms brought on to the world stage after China's reforming and opening-up policy. It was also the first to enter the international performance market and is now cartwheeling along another road of development.
In the process of market-oriented reform, Chinese acrobatics has successfully integrated with other forms of performing arts, presenting the world a wonderful new face. But after this period of rapid development, China's elite acrobats still need to deal with new problems so they may step up to a higher level.
Not just stunts any more
On June 28, 2010, Chinese acrobats presented a new show, named Cha, in a performing hall of the World Expo site in Shanghai. The vivid and exquisite performance and the Chinese-style stage set showed the audience the elegance of the art of tea, as well as the colorfulness and profundity of Chinese culture. The audiences were totally immersed in enjoying the art of tea itself, forgetting the show itself was being put across in the form of acrobatics which demands high-level feats and strength.
Since May 1, Cha, the latest work of Chengdu-based Battle Flag Acrobatics Troupe (BFAT), has been performed 184 times at the World Expo site in Shanghai, attracting and enthralling more than 300,000 visitors. The show thus has quickly garnered a reputation as the most innovative Chinese art performance of the Expo in Shanghai to date.
The word "cha" means tea in Chinese. The Chinese art of tea is deeply rooted in its culture and emphasizes its spirit much more than form. Meanwhile, acrobatics is considered an art combining highly developed skills, physical strength and courage. How can these two different arts be integrated?
FLYING: Acrobats from Tianjin Acrobatic Troupe perform "ballet on top of head" during the Tianjin Week at the World Expo in Shanghai (REN YONG)
Li Xining, President of BFAT and also the director and script writer of Cha, says although BFAT has won 45 gold medals in international competitions in recent years, the high difficulty of feats does not represent the current level of Chinese acrobatics. The art form has now developed into a comprehensive one that features richer cultural elements and integration with other forms of art. Cha is a trial of that type.
"It is a blend of acrobatics, music, dance, drama and martial arts, fully interpreting Chinese tea culture from different perspectives," said Li.
Similar to Cha, other acrobatic works such as the Swan Lake of Guangzhou-based Soldiers' Acrobatics Troupe also represent the great achievement of contemporary Chinese acrobatics. For five years, Swan Lake, an innovative acrobatic stage work, has traveled all over Europe. Wherever it was performed, it was warmly welcomed. Even in Russia, the home of the ballet Swan Lake, the audiences were totally moved by this classy Chinese version of ballet. An ingenious mix of ballet, music, drama and the highest level of Chinese acrobatic skills, such as dancing ballet on shoulders and tops of heads, created wonderment.
Another successful Chinese acrobatic performance is ERA-Intersection of Time, a multimedia theatrical spectacle jointly produced by the China Art and Entertainment Group and Shanghai Media Group. By the end of this June, there had been 1,884 performances in China for a total box office take of 190 million yuan ($28 million), an outstanding showing for an acrobatic show in the domestic market.
From shows of stunts to an integrated performing art, from variety shows to story-telling performances with plots and heroes, Chinese acrobatics has completed a historic leap in 10 years.
More challenges ahead
The superb skills of Chinese acrobats are known worldwide. They won gold medals in international competitions every year and were invited by many world famous circuses such as Cirque du Soleil, a Canadian entertainment company.