Most of acrobats and contortionists who make up the New Shanghai Circus have been training in China since they were eight or 10 years old. They’ve been visiting Maui for a few years now, and soon will do so again. The circus comes to town (that would be the Maui Arts & Cultural Center) on Jan. 19. The show starts at 4pm and runs to 7:30pm.
To find out more about what goes into the show, we spoke with Shuyang Wei, the troupe coordinator and translator for the New Shanghai Circus.
MAUITIME: Where in the world have you performed?
SHUYANG WEI: We’ve performed in almost all of the major countries around the world. Germany, Britain, Canada, Singapore, Japan and so on. Our favorite country is America. I do mean it. As you know, we have been performing in Branson, Missouri for more than 16 years, and during this period, we have tour shows almost every year. We enjoy performing in the States, as you have great theater culture here. You can find a good theater even in a very small town. And the audiences are the most enthusiastic in the world.
MT: What’s your role in the circus?
SW: I’m the troupe coordinator and translator and don’t perform in the show. But sometimes, I may do the announcement before the show. After I graduated from the graduate school of Missouri State University, I was looking for a job that could bring my superiority as a bilingual into full play. Then I found this job in New Shanghai Circus which matches my expectation. I really enjoy working with our acrobats.
MT: How do you recruit performers?
SW: We have 24 people in our group, 20 of them are performers. The performers of our group come from Shanghai and Anhui Province. Every year, we recruit performers from the acrobatic schools and troupes in China. In this way, we can have [a] different performance every year.
MT: How long has this circus been performing?
SW: New Shanghai Circus has a history of more than 30 years. We have been doing tour shows in the United States for more than 20 years as well. We started to have our own theater in Branson, Missouri in 1998.
MT: Have your acts in the performance stayed the same through the years?
SW: Generally speaking, we don’t change the performance during one year’s show season. But we do change the acts every year. We have a professional acrobatic director who directs and choreographs the performers’ acrobatic skills into a complete artistic performance.
MT: Are there some acts that are so popular you always have to do them? What are they?
SW: As you know, there are a bunch of different kinds of acrobatic acts. Some of the traditional acts, like hoop diving, contortion and diabolo (Chinese Yo Yo), are popular with the American audiences. We have these acts almost every year, only with different performers and different performing styles.
MT: Has anything ever truly gone wrong during a performance?
SW: Even it is hard to avoid miss, but we always try our best to avoid it. There wasn’t any serious accident happen for this group in the past.
MT: What qualifications are needed to be a performer?
SW: Some of the acrobats diverted from gymnastic schools, but most of them come from the acrobatic schools in China. Generally speaking, the performers started to their training since they were only 8 to 10 years old, and they also need to take the general courses like Chinese, Mathematics, science and other courses as required by the Chinese Ministry of Education. You need to pass the exams if you want to become a student in acrobatic school. And we always recruit the best students from the schools to be our performers.
MT: What’s your favorite act?
SW: In fact, I love all of the acts in our performance. If I have to say which one is my favorite, I will say the rolling cups. It is a contortion act, from which you will be amazed by the softness and flexibility of the performer.
MT: Where did your name come from? Was there an Old Shanghai Circus?
SW: New Shanghai Circus is our tour brand, which has a history of more than 30 years. In Shanghai City, people like to call the city before 1940s as the Old Shanghai, and after as New Shanghai. We established this troupe in 1980s, that’s why we call ourselves as New Shanghai Circus.
MT: Does your circus also perform in China?
SW: The Chinese acrobatics has a history of more than 3,000 years. Some of the acts like diabolo, ball juggling and contortion have a very long history in China. In ancient China, acrobatics was a kind of street art but also loved by the royal families. In the modern era, we have transferred acrobats into a kind of synthetic stage art which combines acrobatic skills, music, dancing, lighting and so on. This is the Chinese acrobatics we can see now on stage.
Before 2007, we had our own theater in Shanghai. The show aimed at tourists from other countries. After 2007, we changed our strategy and focus on our shows in Branson Missouri, as well as our tours every winter and spring in the United States.