Great leaps around

A fa­mous troupe from Shan­dong pulls out all the stops as per­form­ers cre­ate a show that ex­cites a new au­di­ence, Chen Nan finds.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at chen­nan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

A fa­mous troupe from Shan­dong pulls out all the stops as per­form­ers cre­ate a show that ex­cites a new au­di­ence.

Over 10 years ago, Shan­dong Acro­batic Troupe, one of China’s best, was in trou­ble. Like many tra­di­tional art forms of China, acro­bat­ics faced los­ing au­di­ences, es­pe­cially the younger gen­er­a­tion.

But dur­ing the last few years, peo­ple have been flock­ing back to the the­aters. The troupe’s di­rec­tor, Yao Jian­guo, says more than 3,500 shows are held ev­ery year — not just do­mes­ti­cally but world­wide.

“Acro­bat­ics has to rein­vent it­self to be alive in the con­tem­po­rary scene,” says Yao, who was born in Ji­nan, Shan­dong prov­ince, and has been com­mit­ted to the cen­turies-old art form since he was 10 years old.

For his troupe, one of the best ways to pre­serve this iconic part of China’s na­tional iden­tity is to com­bine solid Chi­nese acro­batic skills with suc­cess­ful Western show for­mats, which have de­vel­oped a proven fan base.

The troupe will stage a new pro­duc­tion, ti­tled China Goes Pop!, which blends Broad­way-style mu­sic, dance, Chi­nese acro­bat­ics and mul­ti­me­dia tech­nol­ogy.

To pro­duce the show, the troupe co­op­er­ated with China Arts and En­ter­tain­ment Group, the first large-scale state-level arts and en­ter­tain­ment as­so­ci­a­tion founded in 2004 un­der China’s Min­istry of Cul­ture, and Broad­way Asia Com­pany, whose pro­duc­tions in­clude An­drew Lloyd Web­ber’s The Sound of Mu­sic and Dream­Works’ Mada­gas­car Live.

The show will make its de­but in Bei­jing’s Tian­qiao Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter over Aug 5-7.

The Shan­dong troupe was founded in 1959. Based in Ji­nan, it has won three top Golden Clown awards at the In­ter­na­tional Cir­cus Fes­ti­val of Monte Carlo.

With around 150 per­form­ers, the troupe is one of the top five among China’s nearly 200 pro­fes­sional acro­batic troupes. Since 2008, it has been col­lab­o­rat­ing with Western per­form­ing arts com­pa­nies, such as the es­tab­lished Mon­treal com­pany Cirque du Soleil.

In 2012, nine per­form­ers of the troupe per­formed at the Ko­dak Theater dur­ing the Academy Awards for the first time. Last De­cem­ber, the troupe staged a tra­di­tional Chi­nese drum dance acro­batic per­for­mance in Jo­han­nes­burg as part of the clos­ing cer­e­mony of the “Year of China” in South Africa.

“Chi­nese acro­batic shows put an em­pha­sis on agility, power and bal­ance. We main­tain our tra­di­tion while learn­ing that sto­ry­telling and the por­trayal of roles are also cru­cial to at­tract au­di­ences be­sides col­or­ful acro­bat­ics and grav­ity-de­fy­ing stunts,” says Yao.

China Goes Pop! tells the story of a heart­bro­ken young tal­ented artist and his pur­suit of true love.

Be­sides prac­tic­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese acro­batic acts, such as con­tor­tions and cy­cling, 11 ac­tors from the troupe dance and per­form in Broad­way style.

Meng Yan, a 29-year-old per­former of the troupe, plays the sec­ond fe­male lead in the show.

Born in Ji­nan and study­ing acro­bat­ics since she was 10, Meng has per­formed in Dralion, a tour­ing pro­duc­tion by Cirque du Soleil, since 2010.

“It’s quite a chal­lenge to per­form in a Western pro­duc­tion. In Chi­nese acro­batic shows, we fo­cus on our moves but in the Western pro­duc­tion, we por­tray the roles with emo­tions and in­ter­act with the au­di­ences,” says Meng.

Marc Routh, co-founder of Broad­way Asia Com­pany and a four-time Tony Award-win­ning pro­ducer, says: “Chi­nese ac­ro­bats are some of the hardest-work­ing per­form­ers in the world. They train from a very young age and yet are very will­ing and ex­cited to take on the ad­di­tional chal­lenges that this show re­quires.”

As the pro­ducer of China Goes Pop!, he says that his com­pany has been work­ing in Asia for 20 years — bring­ing shows to Asia, creat­ing shows specif­i­cally for the Asian mar­ket, and creat­ing Asian shows to export to the world mar­ket.

“We have been work­ing on the show ( China Goes Pop!) for 18 months. The per­form­ers have trained to add dance, act­ing and phys­i­cal com­edy skills to their acro­batic skills, which have been de­vel­oped both dur­ing our re­hearsal and workshop pe­ri­ods and dur­ing the time be­tween th­ese re­hearsals,” he says.

Routh also says that by adding el­e­ments of Broad­waystyle sto­ry­telling as well as dance, mar­tial arts, and phys­i­cal com­edy and re­fresh­ing them with con­tem­po­rary pop mu­sic and ex­cit­ing vi­su­als, his team hopes to suc­ceed in putting a spot­light on acro­bat­ics that will ap­peal to a younger au­di­ence world­wide.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

The Shan­dong Acro­batic Troupe has toured around the world and won three top Golden Clown awards at the In­ter­na­tional Cir­cus Fes­ti­val of Monte Carlo.

Per­form­ers re­hearse for Chi­naGoesPop!, the lat­est pro­duc­tion by Shan­dong Acro­batic Troupe.

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