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Chinese acrobatics and where to see it in Beijing
Chinese acrobats are among the worlds’ most accomplished, and happily this is one art form that you can enjoy in Beijing and China without understanding a word of Chinese. Some acts are quite awe inspiring, you will see things you never knew a human body was capable of doing. Make the time to see a show and you will not be disappointed.
Some of the most common acts include lion dances or dragon dances (acrobats in hefty costumes dance, roll and jump like lions and dragons), sword swallowing, fire breathing, conjuring and juggling.
Chinese acrobats juggle anything from porcelain vases and glass bottles to people – with their feet, spin plates on sticks, build enormous towers of people, and jump through rings of flame. Chinese acrobatics also feature tightrope walking, where acrobats somersault along tight-wires, springboard stunts, and ‘pole climbing’ where acrobats perform stunts whilst balancing on tall poles.
Acrobatics is one of China’s most popular art forms. There is little emphasis on set, or music, and no plot. Props, other than the costumes used in the lion and dragon dances, are often simple household items like chairs, plates and bowls. Many Chinese acrobats also perform magic, producing animals, birds and entire dinner sets from their loose gowns, but somehow still able to perform leaps and somersaults.
In China, acrobatics was traditionally not performed in theatres, because acrobats (along with actors and actresses) were looked down upon, and viewed as being of the same social statues as prostitutes. This all changed after 1949. Acrobatics and has always received support from the CCP, perhaps because of the difficulty of making acrobatic performances carry any political message. Mao Zedong was a great fan of acrobatics.
Artefacts depicting scenes from acrobatic performances prove that acrobatics has been practised in China for at least 2000 years. Most of the acts in today’s repertoire are traced back to the work of Zhang Heng (AD 25-120), who is supposed to have invented knife-swallowing, fire-breathing and other feats.
Nowadays more than 10,000 people involved in the acrobatics industry. Children begin their training as young as four or five, spending the first two years learning the basic skills such as dancing and tumbling, before moving on to specialised roles.
Most acrobats practice Qi gong, the Chinese breathing and mental art which helps focus attention, and help the body and mind work in harmony.
Where to see Acrobatics in Beijing
Arguably Beijing’s best acrobats are to be found at Wànshèng Theatre (万胜剧场) just West of the Temple of Heaven. Ticket prices start around 100Y. Performances 7.15pm daily.
Taxi is probably the best way to get there, and should be less than 30Y from the city centre.
To get there by subway involves a walk of over 2km from Qianmen subway (Line 2). If you want to do this, head directly South from Qianmen along Qianmen Dajie (前门大街), and you should see Beiwei Lu (北伟路) on your right after about 2km. Turn right (West) along there, and the theatre’s on your right after 200m.
Tel: 6303 7449
Universal Theatre (Heaven and Earth Theatre) (天地剧场)just North of the Poly Plaza is home to the China Acrobatics Troupe, and hold performances at 7.15 daily. Tickets start around 120-200Y.
The theatre is to be found about 200m North of the Poly Plaza which is right by Dongsishitiao subway station (Line2). The location also means that a taxi from anywhere in the city centre should be less than 40Y.
Chaoyang Theatre (潮阳剧场)’s schedule can be erratic, either call or check out the expat rags for more information. It’s located out on the No.3 East Ring Road, an unpleasant walk almost 2km North from Guomao subway station. As things stand taxi is the best transport option.
Tel: 6507 2421
Recommended Chinese culture articles:
What to see and do around Beijing
Wonder at the Great Wall, be awed by the magnificent Forbidden City, drink in the scenery from a boat on the Summer Palace’s Kunming Lake.