Braeden Kerr: Acrobatics as a Chinese Performance Art

On Sunday May 11th, after a long day of travelling from Hong Kong to Beijing, our group attended an acrobat show at the Chao Yang Theatre. The troupe performing was established in 1980 in Beijing, and have been performing in the same theatre since 1984. The troupe performs two, hour and a half shows each day, and we were lucky enough to witness a series of jaw-dropping acts over the span of their show.

The art of acrobatics is found in many performing acts, sports, and martial arts and is commonly associated with any activity that makes extensive use of gymnastic elements. It is one of the oldest known performing arts known to mankind, and in China dates back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). Acrobatics were originally performed in China during festivals to celebrate the end of successful harvests. The skills required to perform at high-levels were kept within the family line, becoming somewhat of a trade. Nowadays, children as young as 10 or 11 with exceptional skills are recruited to move away from their families and train extensively to become a skilled full-time acrobat.

In similar fashion to the Cirque du Soleil performances we are very familiar with, Chinese acrobatic performances commonly tell a story. Despite the “ooh and aah” factor that spectators usually look for, Chinese acrobat shows tell stories of Chinese history, including the country’s philosophies, religions, battles, and legends. Despite the many changes in political leadership in Chinese history, the art of acrobatics has consistently been a unifying dynamic for Chinese people for thousands of years, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Our class arrived at the theatre in time for the 7 p.m. showing. The theatre was not at full capacity, in all likelihood due to the fact that the troupe performs twice every day. The members of our group were able to buy popcorn, beverages, and other fun apparel before the show started. As the lights dimmed, everyone began to get very excited as we were not sure what to expect next. The first act consisted of a large group of young men that performed a series of gymnastic flips while jumping through hoops, with one member eventually flipping through a stack of hoops five high! This was then followed by a young woman who judged open umbrellas with her feet while lying on her back! A few more acts occurred before a short intermission. It was simply incredible to watch what these performers were capable of doing, and then thinking about how much time and effort they would have put into perfecting these acts really spoke to the dedication they all must have.

Once the intermission ended, another set of performances took place. Personally, my two favourite acts took place during this half of the show. The first of which was two men who performed balancing acts at the top of a large flight of stairs. The highlight of their performance was one man balancing the other man on top of his shoulders, while walking on his hands all the way down and up the stairs. I overheard later on that this duo held the world record for such a feat. The finale to the show was probably the most insane thing I’ve ever witnessed first-hand. The back of the stage opened up to reveal a large circular cage, and then a man on a motorcycle appeared and began doing tricks inside the cage. Before we knew it, there were five motorcycles in the cage at the same time! Everyone was sure they were going to crash into one another, and some people had to close their eyes they were so nervous. This performance capped off what was an incredible show by the troupe, and the loud applause they received at the end was well deserved.

Overall, the acrobat show we attended was a great way for everyone to unwind after a long day of travelling, and I believe that everyone was very impressed by the high level of performance we were able to witness. 
Braeden is a third year Bachelor of Business Administration student.


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