Chinese variety art

Chinese variety art (simplified Chinese: 杂技艺术; traditional Chinese: 雜技藝術; pinyin: zá jì yì shù) refers to a wide range of acrobatic acts, balancing acts and other demonstrations of physical skill traditionally performed by a troupe in China. Many of these acts have a long history in China and are still performed today.

ChineseVarietyart BalancingAct 4 bowls
Balancing acts are one type of Chinese variety art.

Circus vs variety art

While the English term "Chinese circus" has been used to describe Chinese variety arts even in the earliest Western historical texts, the East views the Chinese term "circus" (馬戲) as an altogether separate, Western style of show. Elements such as clowns and large animals belong exclusively to the Western circus. Eastern elements include Shaolin monks, Peking opera characters and the Monkey King, for example.

History

Nieuhof-p-263-Googhelaars-Lach-van-Kley-plate-364
Chinese street performers seen by Johan Nieuhof in 1655-57

Chinese performing arts have a long history. Variety show is known to existed as early as the Qin dynasty (221-207 BC) or possibly earlier. During the Qin and Han periods, Juedi (角抵) or Baixi (百戲) variety show was popular with the common people. Juedi was originally an entertainment where men wearing horns charged at one another like bulls, but became a general term used interchangeably with Baixi to describe popular entertainment during the Han Dynasty.[1] It consisted of a variety of acts such as conjuring, acrobatics, wrestling, musical performances, dance, martial arts, horsemanship, and juggling.[2][3] In the Eastern Han Dynasty, the scholar Zhang Heng was one of the first to describe the acrobatic theme shows in the royal palaces in his "Ode to the Western Capital" (西京賦). The event featured shows such as Old Man Huang of the Eastern Sea (東海黃公), the Dancing Fish and Dragon (魚龍蔓衍) and Assembly of Immortals (總會仙倡), and Zheng described swallowing knives and spitting fire, creatures that transformed into another, as well as children who performed acrobatics on high poles.[1] A grand acrobatic show was held by Emperor Wu of Han in 108 BC for foreign guests.[4]

The performances became more elaborate and during the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD), the performing arts became popular in the Emperor’s court, and the acts became more refined. Eventually, the performing arts lost favor in the Imperial Court; they moved back to the common people and most performers performed in the street. During the Song Dynasty the variety shows may be performed in the entertainment centres called the wazi (瓦子, meaning "tiles"). Towards the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the performers came off the street and started performing on stage. During the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it regained popularity with the Imperial Court and has remained a popular art form to this day.

Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the art forms have gained new respectability. Troupes have been established in the provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipals with theaters specifically dedicated to the variety arts. Some troupes have become world famous, playing to packed houses at home and on foreign tours.

It wasn't until the 1990s, however, that the art form was packaged as a complete theme show. The 1994 show Golden Wind of the Southwest (金色西南風) led the way in successfully re-promoting the art as a whole.[4]

Performances

ChineseVarietyart HumanLion
Human Lion balancing on a globe. Each lion suit usually has two performers.

Below is a list of performances available in the variety art. Some are more standard, while others are more regional. There is always new innovation taking place.

HuangShanWireWorkers

Highwire acrobats in Huang Shan

Chinese Contortion Acrobatics

Contortion acrobatics

Chinese Circus Acrobats on Bicycle

Balancing act on a bicycle

ChineseVarietyart Platerotate

Multi-plate spinning

ChineseVarietyart Fightingmonk

Shaolin monk

ChineseVarietyart BalancingAct2

Gymnastic display

Festivals

See also

References

  1. ^ a b Faye Chunfang Fei, ed. (2002). Chinese Theories of Theater and Performance from Confucius to the Present. University of Michigan Press. pp. 24–25. ISBN 978-0472089239.
  2. ^ Richard Gunde (2001). Culture and Customs of China. Greenwood. p. 104. ISBN 978-0313361180.
  3. ^ Wang Kefen (1985). The History of Chinese Dance. China Books & Periodicals. pp. 20–27. ISBN 978-0835111867.
  4. ^ a b "The acrobatic Theme show and its origin in the Hundreds Entertainment". Archived from the original on March 9, 2005. Retrieved 2007-05-25.
Acrobatics

Acrobatics (from Ancient Greek ἀκροβατέω, akrobateo, "walk on tiptoe, strut") is the performance of extraordinary human feats of balance, agility, and motor coordination. It can be found in many of the performing arts, sporting events, and martial arts. Acrobatics is most often associated with activities that make extensive use of gymnastic elements, such as acro dance, circus, and gymnastics, but many other athletic activities — such as ballet and diving — may also employ acrobatics. Although acrobatics is most commonly associated with human body performance, it may also apply to other types of performance, such as aerobatics.

Arts of China

The arts of China (Chinese: 中國藝術/中国艺术) have varied throughout its ancient history, divided into periods by the ruling dynasties of China and changing technology, but still containing a high degree of continuity. Different forms of art have been influenced by great philosophers, teachers, religious figures and even political leaders. The arrival of Buddhism and modern Western influence produced especially large changes. Chinese art encompasses fine arts, folk arts and performance arts.

Balancing Acts

Balancing Acts is a 2005 documentary film by Donna Schatz that chronicles the lives of Chinese acrobat Man-Fong Tong and his wife Magda Schweitzer, a Jewish acrobat from Budapest, Hungary. The two met in Europe on the eve of World War II. They were both at the peak of their careers, performing at the Moulin Rouge and Cirque Medrano, and alongside acts such as Maurice Chevalier and Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson. While their careers were full of success, the spread of Nazism brought them great hardships. Their marriage saw the trials of wartime Europe, post-war poverty, the birth of two sons, and a difficult ten-year separation from one another.

Index of China-related articles (0–L)

The following is a breakdown of the list of China-related topics.

Zaju

Zaju was a form of Chinese opera which provided entertainment through a synthesis of recitations of prose and poetry, dance, singing, and mime, with a certain emphasis on comedy (or, happy endings). Although with diverse and earlier roots, zaju has particularly been associated with the time of the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), and zaju remains important in terms of the historical study of the theater arts as well as Classical Chinese literature and poetry. Zaju is known to have been performed during the earlier Song (960–1279) and Jin (1115–1234) dynasties. The various particulars of the zaju multimedia performance were derived from many and diverse sources of musical, dance, poetry, and theater traditions.

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