None of the wonder of this show will be lost in translation
Their aerial acrobatics are a draw around the world. But when Phillip Gandey decided to bring the Chinese State Circus to Britain, he knew at least one aspect of it – the comedy – would be lost in translation.
"At one of the shows I went to in China, I was told there would be a very funny animal impersonator," said Philip, who has brought Chinese performers across to Britain for the past 20 years.
"He did a duck and a bear before his finale – a pig having its throat slit. The whole audience was in hysterics.
"I decided it wasn't the sort of thing that would go down well in Hull on a Thursday night."
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While the comedy has been altered for a Western audience – the show instead features the comic character of the Monkey King – it features more than 2,000 years of Chinese acrobatic and martial arts traditions.
The production, Yin Yang, plays on the tradition of Yin, the dark side of the universe, balanced out by Yang, the light.
Alongside the lighter aspects, such as parasol juggling, an eye-catching Lion Dance and the Bicycle Act, in which ten performers manoeuvre on to a single bicycle, there is the more muscular, physical side of the production.
Phillip said: "There are the beautiful bicycle girls and the drama of the hoop divers – it is the juxtaposition of the light and the shade of some very strong physical acts.
"There will be divers somersaulting through hoops that are four or five metres up in the air – and jumping six metres up between poles."
The tougher aspects of the show will also include foot juggling with drums, a contortionist and the wince- inducing performances by the Shaolin Monks – who go through an intensive training schedule from their early teens.
"They smash bricks laid on each others' bodies with sledge hammers," said Phillip.
The production, which will spend three months touring the country, sees the performers closely catered for.
"They enjoy seeing Britain but they hate the food," said Phillip. "As an army marches on its stomach, so does the Chinese State Circus.
"We have a trained Chinese chef who cooks them traditional food three times a day wherever they are."
The production, which will be touring for three months, marks Phillip's latest project.
Every two years, he travels to China in order to create a new show.
He said: "There are about 200 acrobatic schools across China – if a child shows a propensity for it they can choose to go to one of the schools and spend half their time on acrobatics and the other half on academic studies.
"I've travelled everywhere from northern Mongolia to Shanghai, looking at different troupes over the years."
Phillip knows what he is looking for – having first appeared with his family circus at the age of two, he has now enjoyed 57 years in the industry.
He said: "It works in the way it does with football teams – you've got the second or third divisions in the provinces and then the top, the equivalent to the Premier League, in the cities. I'll spend eight or nine weeks there to choose from the acrobats I see."