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Chinese acrobatics are world famous for astounding feats of agility and balance, with the art and skill dating back 2,500 years. Those who want to know more and see the best on offer can visit Shanghai Circus World, covering 22,500 square meters, the city’s best-known venue for acrobatics and circus performances.
The 1,638-seat circus theater in Zhabei District is known as the “best circus world in China.” It is housed in a stylish globular building humorously known as Ferraro Rondnoir, a famous piece of chocolate. Since opening in 1999, the theater has become a landmark and played host to many magic and acrobatic shows, international circus exhibitions and exchanges.
It’s easy to get there — just a two-minute walk from the Shanghai Circus World Station of Metro Line 1. The building contains an acrobatics arena as its main area, a rehearsal building, animal house and an entertainment center. It has a revolving stage, computer-controlled lighting and multi track and stereo sound systems. It stages high-level acrobatics and circus competitions as well as multimedia shows.
Every weekend, the celebrated Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe stages “Happy Circus” show for children, featuring Chinese traditional acrobatics, animal acts and Western-style clown comedy. However, it is the acclaimed extravaganza “Era — Intersection of Time” that has given Shanghai Circus World an impressive worldwide reputation. “Era” debuted in September 2005. Until last month, the daily show has taken in 160 million yuan (US$23.5 million) from more than 1,600 performances. Around 1.6 million people have watched the show. Unlike many acrobatic performances that primarily showcase skills, “Era” has a storyline: It’s a high-tech time-travel journey through the past, present and future. A live orchestra accompanies the visual narrative.
The multimedia spectacular is one of the most lavish and high-tech shows in the history of Chinese theater. It fuses astounding Chinese acrobatics with high-tech modern effects such as sound, smoke, wind, light, fog and a water curtain. The audience feels more like participants than spectators.
Eric Villeneuve, a veteran Canadian artist and choreographer, directs the all-Chinese show. He was a director of the Cultural Gala of the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit in Vancouver in 1997. Hollywood star Tom Cruise, during his visit in Shanghai to shoot “Mission Impossible III” (2006), watched the show and called it “a marvelous art.” Local writer Cheng Naishan says the show exemplifies Shanghai’s openness and acceptance of different cultures.
During intermission, visitors can find interactive programs about the show and also snacks at Shanghai Circus World. “Era” has marketed spin-offs and by-products such as stamps, T-shirts, comic dolls, gift watches and cell-phone rings. On special days like Valentine’s Day and Christmas, Shanghai Circus World hosts gala parties for lovers and young people.
Visitors can learn simple tricks and chat with the actors/acrobats of “Era.” “Era” has published a book of the same name, giving insights into the show’s early planning, little-known behind-the-scenes stories and worldwide promotion. The English-language edition will be displayed at the World Expo 2010 Theme Pavilion in 2010. As a representative of Shanghai Circus World, “Era” plans to tour worldwide. Dates haven’t been decided yet. Foreign actors and acrobats will be invited to perform.