Incredible Acrobats highlight visit to China

In a land that boasts such ancient and historical monuments as the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square, Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace, it seems improbable that a circus would rank right at the top of the highlights.

But if Barnum & Bailey has “the greatest show on earth,” then the Incredible Acrobats of the New Shanghai Circus have to be the greatest acrobatic show on earth. One of the hottest tickets in this city of 17 million, performances are offered seven nights a week, most to sold out crowds.

So popular, the Circus has made more than 80 tours around the world and has for the past seven years had a second home in Branson, MO., where on May 15 it will open in the new 950-seat New Shanghai Theatre on Highway 165 between the Ain’t Misbehaving Theatre and Coffelt Country.

Hard to believe but “The show in Branson is better than the one here in Shanghai,” said our host, owner Lizhi Zhao through an interpreter, his very personable and attractive assistant, Jane Li.

From contortionists, acrobats, jugglers and musicians to balancing on chairs stacked to the top of the theatre and five motorcycles roaring around in a circular cage, the Shanghai show is not only spectacular but the talents of a group of athletes averaging about 20 years in age is almost overwhelming.

So how did a circus of Chinese acrobats founded by Zhao in 1991 end up in the heartland of the United States?

“Mr. Zhao was looking for three years for a place on the east and west coasts and Las Vegas but there too many cultural events and it was too competitive,” said Li. “He came to Branson and liked the Midwest environment because it had no gambling or sex. It was a very good place for our acrobats.”

In addition to wanting to expose the talents of China’s acrobats to the world, Mr. Zhao also was anxious to bring Chinese culture to the U.S. The new theatre will feature elements of Chinese architecture including modern artwork, cascading waterfalls, Chinese gardens and a sculpture of Chinese Bronze Ware that is approximately 3,500 years old.

For his efforts, Mr. Zhao joined Wayne Newton as only the second person to receive a “Patron and Partner of the Arts” honorary doctorate from William Woods University in 2002.

In 1999, a year after arriving in Branson, the “Acrobats of China” were invited to the New Victory theatre on Broadway where it played before a record 28 sold out shows.

“Feats of circus art that reach literally breathtaking heights of skill are among the pleasures awaiting the children and adults lucky enough to make their way to see the New Shanghai Circus,” the New York Times reported. “In acts that often trace their origins to the harvest festivals of more than 2,000 years ago, this youthful, handsome and graceful company spends a swift two hours in a range of demanding performances.”

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