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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New Shanghai Theatre in Branson, Missouri, to open May 15, 2005

In 2005, the Acrobats of China featuring the New Shanghai Circus will perform in a brand new theater currently under construction in Branson, Missouri. The New Shanghai Theatre is located at 645 State Hwy 165, just south of Hwy 76 between the Ain’t Misbehaving Theatre and Coffelt Country. The New Shanghai Theatre, featuring modern Chinese architecture, will seat approximately 900 and is scheduled to open on May 15, 2005. Shows are at 3 & 8 PM, through December 14.

Lizhi Zhao, owner of the New Shanghai Circus said, “2005 will mark our 8th season in Branson. Each year over 40 Acrobats of China travel over 14,500 miles to perform in the heartland of America. We’re pleased to now have a permanent home in Branson, Missouri. This beautiful theater will have state-of-the-art lighting and sound along with spectacular backdrops.” The theater will feature a giant sculpture of an early example of Chinese Bronze Ware, along with modern Chinese artwork, cascading waterfalls, and Chinese gardens.

Bill and Janet Dailey are building the New Shanghai Theatre. Bill Dailey said, “This theater is being built specifically for the New Shanghai Circus as their show requires extra rigging and large space for their backdrops. The back of the theater is 50 feet tall.” The New Shanghai Circus features aerial ballet, dancing lions, modern Chinese performance art, hoop diving, tumblers, jugglers, magicians, spinning plates, bicycle aerobics, pole climbing, and more. New Shanghai Circus performers begin training at the age of 6 and come from the same school as Chinese Olympic Gymnasts. In addition to their shows in Branson, the New Shanghai Circus presents shows year-round in Shanghai, China, and also tours internationally and across the United States.

Theater construction began in late October of 2004, with excavating by Tom Boyce. Designers for the exterior and interior of the New Shanghai Theatre are Bill Lennon and Tom Gass of Backstage Connections, architecture by Allen Johnson of General Design, building and other subcontracting by Scott Bockman of Cornerstone Building Services in Springfield, Missouri. An official groundbreaking was held on November 17, 2004.

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