Chinese Acrobat Theatre

The Chinese, who come from a different, albeit parallel tradition, are reigning today over the world of acrobatics. After more than two millennia of practically unchanged tradition, the Chinese acrobatic theater has experienced a complete transformation at the dawn of the twenty-first century. It came with the realization that, in a global civilization, it is not their peculiarities and difference, which made the Chinese acrobats attractive, but their extraordinary talent at constantly surpassing themselves, which made them the best in their specialty within a global circus community.

The Province of Hebei, located on the plains of North-China and bordering the Bohai Sea on the east, is considered to be "the cradle of acrobatic arts," where the tradition of Chinese acrobatics originated two thousand years ago.

Historical records, carvings and mural paintings in tombs and grottoes date the origins of Chinese Acrobatics more than two thousand years ago, during the Warring States period. The acrobatic performance known as The Show of One Hundred Skills evolved mostly during the Qin and Han Dynasties and reached a remarkable level of quality and refinement during the Western Han Dynasty. Many of the Chinese acrobatic acts have evolved from the Chinese people’s everyday life, notably among Chinese peasants. Chinese farmers and village craftsmen, who didn’t have much to do during the long winter months, decided to spend their idle time improving their societal positions by becoming acrobats, jugglers, rope dancers, and hand balancers.

The Chinese acrobatic theater is made of various acrobatic specialties that have developed in China in their own specific way. The Lion Dance, one of the most recognizable, is performed by acrobats who, under the costume of a "big lion” or a "small lion”, portray the lion's strength and agility as well as the quiet and playful side of his character.

Cycling acrobatics were imported to China in the nineteenth century, but the Chinese made it a specialty of their own, one that has known in China a spectacular evolution. They are performed on stationary bicycles.

Tight wire or slack wire both evolved from traditional rope dancing, which appeared in China during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), more than 2000 years ago. Magic is also part of the Chinese Acrobatic Theater, in its more ancient and traditional form.

Hoop diving is another staple of Chinese acrobatics was known originally as "Swallow Play" because the performers were supposed to imitate the movements of swallows as they jumped through narrow rings piled upon one another.

"Pole Climbing," known in the West asChinese Poles is another old staple of traditional Chinese acrobatics: It was already described by writers some 1000 years ago.


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