Chinese State Circus bring anicent arts to Great Yarmouth

Chinese State Circus performing in Great Yarmouth and Bury St Edmunds

Chinese State Circus performing in Great Yarmouth and Bury St Edmunds - Credit: Archant

The ancient art of acrobats, aerial artistes and jugglers is celebrated in the Chinese State Circus new show coming to Bury St Edmunds and Great Yarmouth. SIMON PARKIN finds out more.

Thirty world class Chinese acrobats, aerial artistes and jugglers feature in with the Chinese State Circus' latest family show Dynasty.

The internationally acclaimed circus has produced a series of spectacular shows and the innovative latest production, which comes to The Apex in Bury St Edmunds and suitably enough the Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth, Britain's last stand alone circus building, is no exception.

Chinese performers show off super-human physical skills and dexterity, daring feats and performances and the masters of martial arts - the legendary Shaolin Warriors, all feature in a show that promises nonstop action from start to finale.

This latest production returns to the pure and honest perfection in acrobatics upon which their reputation is based, creating a show with no gimmicks, no fakes and no retakes, says creative director Phillip Gandey.


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The history of the Chinese State Circus itself spans 25 years and was first conceived by Phillip after he witnessed a group of oriental acrobats performing to great acclaim at the Monte Carlo Circus Festival.

He was astounded at the quality, depth and sheer diversity of such Chinese acrobatic troupes. After working out the logistics of transporting 45 artistes, plus directors, interpreters and five tonnes of props half-way around the world – the rest, as they say, is history.

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'We've gone back to straight circus, one act after another; and have some fabulous Chinese musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments.'

The change was a direct response to comments the company, and a lot of circuses, were getting from critics and the public. The show was fantastic, but they didn't want the narrative. They have musicals and plays for that.

'When we first started introducing narrative it was quite new; but I think people want a return to pure, undiluted, quality circus from start to finish.

'Our recent productions do that, going back to where it all started. It doesn't need the theatrics which circuses in the past few years have built around themselves,' says Phillip.

The Chinese State Circus aims to be more than a show and to embody a rich tapestry of Chinese art, history and culture which can be dated back over two centuries.

Historical records, ancient carvings and decorative patterns on utensils show the origin of Chinese acrobatics more than two thousand years ago in the period of the Warring States. During the Quin and Han Dynasties (221BC–220AD) acrobatic artistes developed a wide repertoire, and acrobatics was thus called 'the show of a hundred tricks'. It reached a high level as a performing art by the Han Dynasty.

Chinese acrobatics is a common form of art amongst the people. It has a long history with a distinct national style, evolving from the Chinese people's everyday life and work.

China has some 200 professional acrobatic troupes, the country's version of circus. They are each a visceral spectacular that takes audiences on an exhilarating journey through Chinese culture.

Phillip deals with the top 10 or 12 troupes; travelling different cities, looking at recommended acts. Rehearsals start a few months after artists are picked and performers spend some time fine-tuning the show when they arrive in the UK.

As ever this latest production, Dynasty, includes some jaw-dropping spectacles and the kind of physical acrobatic skills to leave Olympic gymnasts looking tame.

Highlights include a woman who manages to balance six umbrellas on her upturned feet while spinning two more in her hands, and a wildly energetic acrobatic section involving jumping through hoops, followed by hat jugglers, diablos and foot rollers. A ballet section ends with a ballerina performing en pointe on her partner's head;

In keeping with the no gimmick or fakes pledge, don't be surprised if the performers take the occasional tumble, but the shows are always performed with good humour.

The Monkey King, a Chinese folklore character, bringing a little bit of light-heartedness to the show by interacting with the audience. The company has given the ancient lion dance act - traditionally featured in weddings and festivals and seen as a good luck dance - a twist and the dragon will be seen lolling its huge head circles the stage and before the whirling and roaring ancient spectacular skills of the Shaolin Warriors.

'We first bought the Chinese State Circus to the UK in 1992, thinking it would have a life expectancy of three or four years. Here we are, some 25 years on and it's still touring. I think that says a lot for the standard of the show,' says Phillip.

'That, coupled with a very reasonable ticket price - which we think we've got as low as we possibly could - means you're going to have a top quality night out.'

t Chinese State Circus, The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, November 10, 5pm/7.30pm, £25 (£23 cons), £10 children, £59 family, 01284 758000, www.theapex.co.uk/Hippodrome, Great Yarmouth, November 11, 7.30pm/November 12, 2.30pm, 7.30pm, £25-£20 (£20 cons), £10 children, discounts for families, 01493 844172, www.hippodromecircus.co.uk

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