I Was There!
We had Russians last year, but this year it was the Chinese troupe performing. This performance will be a blend of mainstream circus acts such acrobatics, stunts & cultural feats accompanied by martial art stunts brought by the Shaolin Wu-shu artists. I missed the monks 2 years ago when they were performing in Plymouth’s Theatre Royal. This year I’m gonna catch them no matter what. Not bothered to wait another couple of year for them to return.
Here are some profile of this group as publicised in their website written by Tian Run Min, an eminent Chinese art scholar & circus Researcher based in Beijing;
Two years ago under the direction of its creator, Philip Gandey, the Chinese State Circus started to plan and prepare for a new way of presenting to European Audiences a performing culture that dates back more than 200 years. I was privileged to be involved in that process, which took us back to the very fundamentals.
What is a circus? In Chinese the nearest words are ‘Ma Xi’ – ‘Ma’ means ‘horse’ and ‘Xi’ is ‘theatre’ or ‘drama’. Therefore ‘Ma Xi’ is the presentation of ‘horse entertainment’. Coincidentally circus in Europe originated with the horse. It is generally acknowledged that Phillip Astley, a cavalryman from the Potteries, created the first circus in 1789 when he encircled a piece of land by the Thames in London to perform horse riding displays to the public.
The entertainment was developed and refined to include other animals, which became the dominant stars in many circuses. Times and attitudes change and circus has to respond, Directors and artistes constantly explore new ways to develop, but in the 1980s there was an even greater urgency. The public indicated they wanted an entertainment revolution under the Big Top.
“The chinese takeaway parody”
In 1992 Phillip Gandey became the first circus Director ever to have the complete artistic and touring control of a circus made up entirely of Chinese national artistes he had toured to select. Thus the Chinese State Circus was born breaking the bonds of traditional circus with animals. For the first time – an international standard all-human circus! It was an instant hit with the British public, and chinese acrobatics formed a vital link in helping people appreciate the rich performance culture of China.
We have entered the 21st Century – an age of high technology with more access to a wider range of entertainment than before. But with the exposive growth in the TV, film, and computer based liesure industries, the challenges facing traditional entertainment are even greater.
Against that background, the plan created by Gandey World Class Productions was bold – extend the cultural range of the circus – introduce the finest martial arts exponents of the world famous Shaolin Temple…artistes from the Peking Opera…Chinese specialityacts…compose new music… and even have the whole show ‘narrated’ by one of the most famous characters in Chinese folklore – The Monkey King.
“A common swear word”
For the first time artistes would not be selected from any single leading acrobatic troupe in China – but from seven different troupes and organisations. It was a complex project taking many months to locate and audition the best artistes. One of the most respected artistic directors in Jilin Province, Mr Wang Shao Jun and I were closely involved in selecting and securing artistes from the Shaolin Temple. It was not easy as the artistes from the Temple had never been involved in circuses. All their public appearances had been at national or regional sports or cultural events.
Shaolin Wushu is one of the King-Fu schools closely connected with Chinese Zen Buddhism. As our lives become more reliant on the benefits of high-tech products, there are growing concerns that people – especially the young – are ignoring their spiritual and physical health. In presenting acts such as ‘Breaking Bricks on the Head’ or ‘Spear bending on the Throat’ the Shaolin Wushu demonstrate the art of perfect physical fitness and complete control through total concentration.
The Shaolin performers devote themselves daily to hours of physical and mental exercise. Through special breathing techniques they enter a state of deep meditation and permit the inner spirit to assume total control of every action and emotion through positive thought and clarity of purpose. This not simply a style of martial arts – it is a way of life controlled by religious culture. Through their actions, you will see the incredible power of combining physical and spiritual strength. This is not a challenge to high-tech – but rather a supplement to contemporary civilisation.
“A teepikal chinese ooman compraining”
Eighteen months of careful preparation, searching, auditioning, writing and composing came together in the vast Municipal Theatre of Chang Chun, the industrial city in Northern China that is home to their influential movie industry. On the vast empty stage, in front of an open-mouthed group of artistes – most of whom had never met each other before, I watched the amazement turn to delight as I translated an explanation of how this new production would ensure the Chinese State Circus maintained its status as the show that changes Big Top entertainment.
This is an entertainment from the heart of China – a tale 2000 years in the telling.
I wasn’t sure if cameras was allowed as it seems like the management impose a strict policy on multimedia recording such as photography & videography. I hope there is leniency on this as it will be such a waste of effort coming empty handed without bringing some precious memory home to be reminisced.
Sneak in the camera & use no flash 🙂 By the way, do stay tune for photos & programme summary, I be hittin the park on Thursday!!