ABOUT THE SHOW
Eye-popping, entertaining show direct from China, starring brilliant world-class acrobats, including Cirque du Soleil alumni.
This story of an artist and his muse unfolds through dazzling acrobatics, martial arts, physical comedy, stunning video and costumes against a pop soundtrack.
Produced by China Arts and Entertainment Group, the leading entertainment company in China, and executive produced by Broadway Asia International, the Tony Award-winning producers who have previously brought spectacular sold-out productions including Cookin’ to the Edinburgh Fringe.
- Delightfully hilarious, yet still tugs at the heartstrings.
Beijing Morning Post
- Awesome visual effects. Highly entertaining spectacle!
Assembly Hall Main Hall
Thursday 3 – Sunday 27 August
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Shandong Acrobatic Troupe
Established in June 1956, Shandong Acrobatic Troupe is one of the most renowned and influential performing arts troupes in China. Its troupe members have regularly performed with Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Brothers, Big Apple Circus, Universoul and others. The Troupe has performed in more than 30 countries such as Canada, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Romania, Czech, Hungary, Mongolia, Italy, Austria, India, Laos, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Porto Rico, UK, France, USA, Singapore, Korea, Finland, Netherland, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal. Their international awards include the two Golden Clown Awards at the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo, the President Prize of the French Republic at the “Festival Mondial du Cirque De Demain” World Acrobatics Festival, the Golden K Prize at the International Acrobatics Competition, Yellow Crane Gold Award at the Wuhan International Acrobatics Art Festival, the Silver Lion Prize and the Copper Bear Award at the Moscow International Circus Festival, the Silver Horse Prize at the Russia International Circus Festival, the Copper Lion Prize at the Wuqiao International Acrobatics Festival, the Copper Award at the Italy International Acrobatics Art Festival.
China Arts and Entertainment Group
China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG) was founded in 2004 based on the merger of the China Performing Arts Agency (CPAA) and the China International Exhibition Agency (CIEA). CAEG is the largest company of its kind in China in the field of entertainment and arts exhibition. With a history of more than 60 years, CAEG is the most renowned and productive leading entertainment company in China that undertaking year-round world class shows and exhibitions domestically and globally. CAEG has organized at home and aboard such major annual festivals as Meet in Beijing Arts Festival, Asian Arts Festival, Venice Biennale-China Pavilion, and the China International Chorus Festival and others. Each year, thousands of shows, exhibitions and other cultural activities are presented in hundreds of cities in dozens of countries and regions attracting audiences of over 10 million annually. Productions include opera Turandot in the imperial ancestral temple of the Forbidden City, Shaolin Warriors, a multi-media acrobatic extravaganza ERA-Intersection of Time, as well as the musicals Cats and Mamma Mia.
Broadway Asia International
Broadway Asia is among the largest production, management, distribution, licensing and touring companies of live entertainment throughout the Asia Pacific region, and its founders, Simone Genatt and Marc Routh, are two of the most active commercial Broadway producers throughout the global market. Over the last 20 years, theatrical productions by the Broadway Asia partners have played in 400 cities in over 40 countries on five continents, and have garnered more than 50 global theatrical awards through its many collaborations, including recent productions with Warner Bros. Theatrical Ventures, Rodgers & Hammerstein Theater Library, Imagem Music Publishing, Nickelodeon Recreation, DreamWorks Animation, Universal Studios, MGM Theatrical, Stage Entertainment, Elephant Eye Theatricals, S2BN, Baruch/ Frankel/Viertel/Routh, Nederlander Worldwide, Resorts World, S.M. Entertainment, and China Broadway Entertainment.
Select international productions include many Tony Award-winning musicals and other live action spectacular entertainment productions: the Broadway award-winning musical, An American in Paris; The Sound of Music; The King and I; Cinderella; The Producers; Hairspray; Rock of Ages; Legally Blonde; The Addams Family; Little Shop of Horrors; Movin’ Out; Rent; West Side Story; 42nd Street; In The Heights; Swing!; Catch Me If You Can; Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; Reel to Real, the Movies Musical; Creature from the Black Lagoon; I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change; Murder Ballad; Cookin’/Nanta; Stomp; Toxic Avenger; Evil Dead; Footloose; Big River; Smokey Joe’s Café; Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; ICE AGE LIVE, A Mammoth Adventure; MADAGASCAR LIVE; SpongeBob Squarepants Live; Siddhartha, The Musical; I Got Merman; Vietnamese Water Puppets; Brazil! Brazil!; Fuerzabruta and many others.
Current select productions include: the live action DreamWorks Kung Fu Panda Spectacular, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman; Amelie, the new Broadway musical based on the award winning French film; Anastasia, the new Broadway musical epic based on the award winning film of the same name, the global tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of The Sound of Music; an extensive Mandarin language China Tour of The Sound of Music; Jay Chou’s new musical, The Secret, premiering in Mainland China; Neverland, the Peter Pan Immersive Theater Entertainment in Mainland China; Murder Ballad in Tokyo; China Goes Pop at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; The Little Prince, Immersive Theater Production in Shanghai, and Smokey Joe’s Cafe Broadway revival.
Broadway Asia is the exclusive Asian representative for theatrical licensing for the Rodgers & Hammerstein Theater Library in Korea, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Argentina and Brazil, including over 100 Broadway titles. In addition, other select licensing titles include Crazy For You, An American in Paris, Amélie, Murder Ballad, Murder For Two, End of the Rainbow, Rock of Ages, and many more.
Shanda Sawyer’s work as a Director and Choreographer and Executive Producer has garnered numerous awards including two Emmys®, a Gracie, a Peabody, five American Choreography Award nominations, and a World Choreography Award. Her arena show credits include Marvel Universe Live! as well as Circus of Dreams, Zing Zang Zoom, and DRAGONS! of the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus. As a comedy director, she fueled the success of television shows such as The Man Show, Queer Eye, The Keenan Ivory Wayans Show, Motown Live and Comics on Delivery as well as popular programs such as Extreme Makeover, The Miss America Pageant, and The World’s Greatest Stunts. Sawyer developed, executive produced and directed the critically acclaimed reality/comedy series Who Needs Hollywood? for Oxygen; winning the Gracie Allen Award for best Reality show. Other projects include serving as choreographer and creative director for top Asian music company Thuy Nga’s spectacular international productions for over 10 years, creating a wide variety of stage shows and music videos for Asian music stars. Sawyer’s choreography credits include television shows such as House MD, Las Vegas, GhostWhisperer, and Keenen Ivory Wayans, as well as numerous commercials for clients such as Levi’s, Nestles, Nintendo, Yoplait, Carnival Cruise, Disney and Pepsi, and music videos for Chris Rock, Hammer and the original song “Surprise” from Chorus Line the Movie. Sawyer is a member of the Director’s Guild of America, Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and the Society of Stage Directors & Choreographers.
Patti Colombo most recently choreographed the Broadway-bound production of Can-Can at The Paper Mill Playhouse starring Kate Baldwin in October 2014. She received the New Jersey Critic’s Award for her work on Seven Brides, On The Town and Kiss Me Kate at Paper Mill as well. The Tony nominated Broadway production of Peter Pan starring Cathy Rigby featured Colombo’s choreography and garnered an Emmy nomination and American Choreographer’s Award when it aired on A&E. She choreographed the National Tours of Doctor Dolittle w/Tommy Tune and Seussical the Musical w/Cathy Rigby. Her choreography for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the Goodspeed Opera House received a Connecticut Critics Circle Award for Best Choreography and The Elliot Norton Award for the National Tour in 2007. She received an Ovation Award for Radio Gals at the Pasadena Playhouse and was Ovation nominated for the revival of Can-Can. Other awards include Critic’s Circle Award for White Christmas at Denver Center; L.A. Drama-Logue Awards for The Mystery of Edwin Drood (West Coast premiere), Most Happy Fella, and West Side Story. Patti also choreographed over 100 episodes of the Emmy Award winning “Adventures in Wonderland” for The Disney Channel and has directed and choreographed Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Baileys Bellobration starring Bello Nock which toured extensively throughout the United States. On the high seas, she has choreographed When You Wish for the new Disney cruise ship and numerous shows for Holland America Line.
Andy Walmsley is one of the most prolific set designers in the world, having worked across all genres encompassing Broadway, the West End, Theater touring, Television, Las Vegas, Theme parks, Circus, Cruise ships, and even Architecture. He is best known for his TV Credits, including the following: WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? the most duplicated scenic design in history; AMERICAN IDOL; SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE; THE BIGGEST LOSER; AMERICAS GOT TALENT; ICE WARRIORS; THE PEOPLE VERSUS’; and POP IDOL. When played internationally, many of these shows sets, most notably WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?, are built from Andy’s original blue prints. MILLIONAIRE has been duplicated 108 times! His West End/Broadway Theatre Credits include BUDDY, THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, which ran in London for 13 years and soon became a huge international hit with a total of 22 duplicate versions running worldwide. Willy Russell’s BLOOD BROTHERS started on the West End and subsequently opened on Broadway. Andy is a multiple Emmy nominee, winning an Emmy for outstanding art direction for American Idol in 2010.
Brighter Than The Sun
David Torpey (Brighter Than The Sun) is an award-winning multidisciplinary designer and director. His work has lead him into the diverse fields of branding, television and film with his company Brighter Than The Sun. With a passion for emerging technologies, David uses it cleverly to push the boundaries, create new layers on traditional creative methods. This has given him significant experience in 3D animation, motion graphics and video mapping for work in theatre, arena tours, EDM, or ‘live’ concert events. His recent talk at TEDx Broadway showcased his extraordinary talent in his field. His latest credits include video design work for Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Musical, and The Summit, the 2013 winner of the editing world cinema documentary at the Sundance film festival.
Paloma Young is an award winning costume designer whose work has been seen on Broadway, cruise lines, dance, and film and media. She won the Tony Award in Costume Design for her work on Peter and the Starcatcher in 2014 and she is currently represented on Broadway in Natasha Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. Her Off-Broadway theatre credits include Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 (Lucille Lortel Award Winner), the Broadway-bound The Bandstand, Off the Main Road, Preludes, Permission, Verite, The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters, Fly by Night, The Tempest, and many more. She received her Master of Fine Arts in costume design from the graduate theatre program at the University of California, San Diego.
- Making spectacles: From Ringling Brothers and Marvel Live! to China Goes Pop!
A specialist in large-scale spectacles, director Shanda Sawyer’s myriad live-entertainment credits have included Marvel Universe Live!, Shaolin Monks and numerous circus productions for Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey. Here, she mourns the end of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which closed in May after 146 years, and explains why synergy and trying new things is so important to making entertaining spectacles…
I don’t direct traditional theatre, that’s not my background. I come from a very creative, hippy family from the San Francisco Bay Area in California. From the age of 14, I was dancing on the street to support myself and we started creating shows from there. When I had my own theatre companies when I was young, we were always trying to create a new genre: let’s put this together with that and create something different.
For the past ten years of my career, I’ve been focused on storytelling within an arena medium. That’s about figuring out: how do you do things on that scale? How do you take something like the Marvel Universe and turn it into a really immersive, compelling, story- and action-driven experience – in an arena format?
Circus was another new medium for me, and I learnt so much working for Ringling Brothers. In 2006, they brought me in, specifically because I was not from the circus world. They’d seen some of my television and arena productions and my concert work with Asian and American pop stars, and they wanted someone who could offer a fresh perspective to reimagine the circus.
It was an entirely new world I was walking into. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my professional life. With most jobs, you know how you’re going to approach them. It might be something new, but you’ll be familiar enough to know what your process will be. With the circus, I was uncertain about many things. For instance: am I supposed to tell the elephants what to do or do they tell me what they’re going to do?
I’ve never known anything like that big circus environment. Every act is from a different country, 120 performers from all over the world, and they come together to work together, to live together, to travel together – they move from city to city, a different one each week, on a mile-long train. There are generations of families who grow up in the circus, living like that. It’s a truly beautiful way of life.
And, of course, Ringling Brothers was an iconic American institution, older than baseball. To be entrusted with that and to bring it into the new millennium was a wonderful experience. The Ringling shows I did from 2006 on were very successful and profitable. But I think over the past five to six years, there was a decline in ticket sales.
It’s so sad that Ringling Brothers has now shut down. There’s still a wider circus circuit so many of the performers will now end up in Europe or Mexico. But it’s sad to see the American aspect of it come to an end. I know that the Feld family [who ran the circus since 1982] felt that they were the trustees of this great American institution so it was a very hard decision to make and one that they resisted for many years. But things change.
In today’s entertainment world, synergy is so important, especially in family entertainment. Children and young moms drive the ticket-buying in families. And kids want to see things that they recognise from their video games and their TV shows and their movies. If you don’t have that kind of synergistic support with branding and intellectual properties, it’s challenging.
That’s the challenge for all aspects of entertainment – look at Broadway and Hollywood movies. The middle class of entertainment is being squeezed in favour of either very small-scale, intimate experiences or the huge tent-pole, arena spectacles supported by hit movies or TV shows.
I always seem to be doing something off the beaten path. I love creating spectacles and I relish the challenge of working on different scales in new mediums. China Goes Pop! is no exception. It’s the coming together and creating something entirely new out of the blend of two very different cultures.
I think audiences in Edinburgh will be entertained from the moment the show begins to the moment it ends, and they’ll be taken on a really exciting and emotional journey with crazy acrobatics merged with an emotional storyline.
- Director and choreographer Shanda Sawyer on… A true cultural exchange
China Goes Pop!’s director and choreographer Shanda Sawyer is a specialist in large-scale spectacles, Sawyer’s myriad live-entertainment credits have included Marvel Universe Live!, Shaolin Monks and numerous circus productions for Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey. Here, she explains what makes China Goes Pop! so different and why Chinese acrobats are such great students…
China Goes Pop! is a blend of traditional Asian culture with Western theatricality and music. I think what’s beautiful is that it has been a true cultural exchange between Mr. Yao, the director of the Shandong Acrobatic Troupe, and China Arts and Entertainment Group, who have been promoting Chinese talent for many years, with Marc Routh and Simone Genatt from Broadway Asia, who came up with this idea of presenting Chinese culture within a Western context. It’s been a wonderful blend of two cultures, both the process and the end result.
I’ve enjoyed working again with Chinese acrobats too. I’ve worked with many in the past. My first experience was when Ringling Brothers brought me in to reimagine their circus in 2006. I also created a show for the Year of the Dragon for Ringling Brothers, and I brought the Shaolin Monks to the US. And there have been many other acrobatic troupes from around the world in other shows I’ve done.
In this company, they’re all amazing acrobats but with a wide range of experience: there are several stars of Cirque du Soleil shows who’ve been brought back specifically to be in China Goes Pop! and, at the other end, we have some young kids from the Shandong Troupe, just 17 years old, for whom this is their first show ever.
Most acrobatic artists have never danced or acted before. This is not only all new to them, in fact, it’s completely foreign to their training: to share their emotions, to tell a story physically, to dance.
The cast’s learning has been exponential. Culturally, the Chinese are so respectful of the role of the teacher – the teacher is revered – which makes them very good students. Everything I try to teach them, they just eat it up. They want the new knowledge and the ability. They’ve grown so much just in the short time I’ve worked with them. I know the Edinburgh experience is going to give the younger ones the seasoning they crave too – being in front of diverse audiences and stepping up into a whole other level.
When China Goes Pop! previewed in Beijing last year, you could see the excitement in the Chinese audiences, particularly the younger audiences, to get a taste of Western culture and to see that blended with their own. I also think there’s a real desire in China for story-driven, emotional content. When we had our first friends and family performance for this iteration of the show in Jinan in May, it was so interesting. That audience had, of course, seen all the acrobatic acts many times and, while they were appreciative of the skills, what they were applauding most were the dramatic moments – during each twist of the couple’s disastrous first date, they were applauding.
We have a lucky bonus in China Goes Pop! too: show’s romantic couple – Guo Qinlong and Zhang Xu – are a genuine couple and their love for one another is evident in their performance. That makes it easy to play to their strengths.
- The Chinese government invests heavily in theatre. Here’s why
China Goes Pop! is produced by the government-run China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG) and executive produced by the New York-based Broadway Asia International. Here, Zhu Ziyi from CAEG and Broadway Asia co-founder Simone Genatt discuss why the Chinese government invests so much in culture, including Shandong Acrobatic Troupe and China Goes Pop!…
Zhu Ziyi: The Chinese government believes that we should pay for good culture, which is such an important part of our tradition. In every city, you’ll find different performing arts troupes – acrobatics as well as ballet, modern dance, traditional dancing, singing, opera and such. These are all funded by the government. We have also funded many grand new theatres.
Simone Genatt: In my head, I’m half-Broadway, half-Chinese, but I am still a foreigner so I can look at things from the outside, and I think there are few things happening in China right now that are fuelling this.
First, there is an inherent belief at all levels of power that happy people create a better society – and that entertainment brings a sense of happiness and togetherness that you otherwise struggle to find in modern society. Increasingly, we all live inside a digital world. That’s especially so in China, where they went directly to smartphones.
The government really believes in this principle – and they have demonstrated this by building so many theatres. In the past ten years alone, the government has built 40 new grand theatres in different cities – these are brand-new, 1500-seat venues. If you build a theatre in a city, society will form around it. The ancient Greeks believed that too.
Another big change in recent years is that, across all sectors, China is aiming to shift from being a replicating and an industrial market to being a market of origination and invention. Well, innovation comes from creative thinking so fostering that has been given new emphasis. In addition to the grand theatres, the government has also built a lot of new universities dedicated to the arts. They want to invest in the next generation of Chinese of inventors and artists. That’s a major shift.
Add to this the rampant growth of the middle class, who have more disposable income and a growing appetite for entertainment, and it’s easy to see both why the government invests in culture and why that investment is paying off with a booming live entertainment market.
- How did the Chinese fall in love with Broadway musicals?
China Goes Pop! is a unique collaboration between East and West. It’s produced by the government-run China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG) and executive produced by the New York-based Broadway Asia International. Broadway Asia co-founder Simone Genatt first met CAEG’s Zhu Ziyi 25 years ago when she tried to pitch Broadway musicals to him. The Chinese market wasn’t ready for Broadway musicals then but quite a lot has changed since, as she explains here…
“I came to China 25 years ago to pitch Broadway musicals. That’s when I first met Zhu Ziyi at the China Performing Arts Agency [which merged in 2004 with China International Exhibition Agency to become Chinese Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG), the country’s largest state-owned creative enterprise]. When I pitched Broadway musicals to Zhu back then, he said, are you crazy?! At that time, his view was that the market wasn’t ready because Broadway musicals were expensive productions, with tickets costing too much for most Chinese to afford, and audiences had no habit of attending.
“But in the intervening years, the market in China has developed very fast – and, I can tell you, the Chinese love Broadway musicals.
“The first thing they know are the movie musicals, especially The Sound of Music. In the mid-Eighties in the Chinese school system, two pieces were chosen to educate students about American culture: one was Death of a Salesman, to show the destruction of the American Dream, and the second, to exemplify the beauty of American culture, was The Sound of Music. Young people were all taught to sing ‘Do-Re-Mi’.
“Broadway Asia controls the rights to The Sound of Music in China. For the first ten years, we did English-language productions and now we have a full Chinese production that continuously moves around the marketplace. It remains incredibly popular.
“But The Sound of Music aside, there has been a huge arc of growth in musicals generally in China. As China has opened up to the West, musicals have been welcomed and embraced. Broadway and West End musicals are a representation of the best of our culture but – and this is so important – they’re not about politics. There is still censorship in China, of course. Broadway Asia has now done 30 musicals in 45 Chinese cities, and we’ve had to censor some of them, making changes to work within the system. That makes sense – it’s their country, we’re just visitors and we have to play by the rules.
“The other thing that’s changed since I first pitched to Zhu 25 years ago has been the emergence of the middle class in China, which is enormous. Did you know? The Chinese middle class is larger than the entire population of the United States. So there’s now quite a lot of disposable income amongst the Chinese middle class – and a good portion of them want to spend some of it on theatre tickets.”
- From Jinan to the world: In conversation with Shandong Acrobatic Troupe’s director
Founded in 1956, the Shandong Acrobatic Troupe is based in Jinan, “city of springs”, in the north-western part of Shandong province of China, 250 miles south of Beijing. It’s amongst the top five of more than 200 acrobatic troupes in the country and has won many gold awards at national and international competitions since the 1980s.
The troupe has performed in more than 40 countries, while many of its artists have also starred in other large-scale circus productions, including for Cirque du Soleil and Ringling Brothers.
Yao Jianguo first joined the Shandong Acrobatic Troupe when he was ten years old and is now director of the 140-strong company, which makes its Edinburgh Fringe debut with the ground-breaking China Goes Pop!, produced by China Arts and Entertainment Group and executive produced by New York-based producers Broadway Asia International. Here, he shares details of a life lived in the troupe and how much Chinese acrobatics has changed in the past fifty years….
“Acrobatics is a very traditional Chinese art form with a very long history. It’s always been popular in China, and elsewhere, because it doesn’t require lyrics. It doesn’t require spoken language at all: audiences understand through the artists’ body language. And so it appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds.
“Through many eras and generations, Chinese acrobatics has developed; each generation gets better than the last generation.
“I started watching other acrobats when I was very young and I became very interested in the art from. I joined the Shandong Troupe in 1970 as a student when I was ten years old and have remained ever since. I’m now 57.
“When students first enter the troupe as a child, like I did, they have six years of training. Their courses include basic training for acrobats – all the tricks such as hand-balancing, hoop-diving, juggling, cycling and aerial silks that you see in China Goes Pop! – as well as music and dance classes and physical training. When they’re students, they learn all the skills; later, they also specialize in specific tricks according to their strengths.
“After six years, there is an examination for graduation. Those who pass the exam become the artists of the troupe and will perform shows and competitions in China and around the world.
“When the artists retire from performing, many will choose to take other roles in the troupe such as coaching, technical crew, wardrobe or management. So the troupe becomes family and a way of life. In total, there are 140 troupe members from seven through to my age and older.
“Since I started as an acrobat, many things have changed. Acrobatics is still a very traditional art form, but nowadays we are not afraid to add new elements too. Cirque du Soleil has been a big influence in this regard – it has affected the acrobatic world dramatically. The company [which was founded in Quebec, Canada in 1984 and began expanding rapidly around the globe in the 1990s and 2000s] presented a new type of circus acrobatics that didn’t just involve the tricks but also storylines. That changed everything.
“This new show, China Goes Pop!, moves things on again, inviting more fresh influences, including the Broadway style, which is very new to us. All of the traditional acrobatic tricks are still performed, but the director [American Shanda Sawyer] has added spice to each one, which makes them much more interesting for audiences of all ages, especially the young, and also for the performers. This is the first time I’ve ever seen these kinds of Broadway production elements introduced into an acrobatic show. It’s very creative and exciting.
“Many of the cast have worked with Cirque du Soleil. So they bring their Cirque training, as well as their Shandong training and now their Broadway training, which they have been undergoing for a year and a half in preparing China Goes Pop!. It’s a combination that makes this show so special.
“I am very happy that the Shandong Acrobatic Troupe has worked on China Goes Pop!. The innovations make us different to any other acrobatic show that you will see anywhere.”
- 9 reasons to see China Goes Pop! at #Edfringe
Direct from China, China Goes Pop! makes its European premiere at the Assembly Hall at the Edinburgh Fringe. Here are nine top reasons to add our show to your festival-going schedule:
- China Goes Pop! is a unique East-West fusion. It marries traditional Chinese arts and culture, dating back thousands of years, with Broadway-style production values and a modern pop music soundtrack.
- China Goes Pop! showcases world-beating acrobatic skills. It’s performed by a cast of 11 from the world-famous Shandong Acrobatic Troupe from Jinan, one of China’s top five (out of hundreds) of state-funded acrobatic companies. The performers train from the age of six to become the best in the world. Amongst the long list of dazzling tricks they perform here are: hoop-dives, juggling, pogo sticks, aerial silks, hand-balancing, bicycle acts, rope jumping and more. The production also incorporates martial arts, physical comedy, dancing and operatic arts, including the ancient bian-lan (mask-changing).
- China Goes Pop! stars leading Cirque du Soleil alumni. Three of China Goes Pop! principals have featured in Cirque du Soleil mega-hits such as Dralion, performed in vast arenas, such as London’s 5,272-seat Royal Albert Hall. In Edinburgh, you can see them in the far more intimate, 600-seat Assemby Hall.
- China Goes Pop! marks two Edinburgh debuts – for both the award-winning Shandong Acrobatic Troupe and the China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG), the largest state-owned creative enterprise in China, administered by the Minister of Culture.
- China Goes Pop! builds on the Edinburgh track record of Artistic Producer Broadway Asia International, whose previous festival hits include Cookin’ (from Korea) and Siddhartha The Musical (from Italy).
- China Goes Pop! is conceived and created by a multi award-winning Broadway team. Broadway Asia has assembled a crack creative team with credits to die for: co-director and choreographers Shanda Sawyer (Marvel Live!, Ringling Bros) and Patti Colombo (Can-Can, Cathy Rigby’s Peter Pan), scenic designer Andy Walmsley (American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire), video designer Brighter Than the Sun (Riverdance) and Tony Award-winning costume designer Paloma Young (Peter and the Starcatcher and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812).
- The large-scale video projections in China Goes Pop! really do pop – and so does the soundtrack. In addition to the pumping list of instantly recognizable Western pop hits that form the aural backdrop for China Goes Pop!’s love story – including Call Me Maybe, Conga, Bicycle Race, Beat It, Vogue and Happy – a contemporary Chinese chart-topper also features.
- China Goes Pop! is big in Beijing! When the piece premiered in China’s capital city in 2016, it attracted rave reviews. According to critics, “the show is a highly entertaining spectacle” (Shanghai Daily), that’s also “colourful, spectacular and dazzling” (Beijing Daily), “fun, light-hearted and funny” (China Cultural) and which “showcases Chinese culture in the best way” (Guangming Culture).
- Edinburgh is China Goes Pop!’s first stop on a world tour. The Fringe is the very first opportunity for audiences to see China Goes Pop! outside of China. After the festival, this premiere production embarks on a tour of Europe and Asia.
- East meets West: How did China Goes Pop come about?
China Goes Pop! is a unique collaboration between East and West. It’s produced by the government-run China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG) and executive produced by the New York-based Broadway Asia International, and performed by a cast of 11 acrobats from China’s Shandong Acrobatic Troupe under the direction of a Broadway creative team.
China Goes Pop! marks the Edinburgh debut for both CAEG and the Shandong Acrobatic Troupe, but builds on the festival success that Broadway Asia has had with six previous shows, including Cookin’ and Reel to Real.
Here, Zhu Ziyi from CAEG and Broadway Asia co-founder Simone Genatt explain how China Goes Pop came about, why it’s being launched internationally from Edinburgh and what makes Chinese acrobats the best in the world…
How did the show come about?
Zhu Ziyi: At the China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG), promoting Chinese culture abroad is one of our major aims and we have produced many acrobatic shows for the world market. A few years ago, I thought it was time to try something different. I wanted to create a show that used Chinese acrobats but that was unlike any other acrobatic show. I thought: it has to be energetic, fashionable and contemporary – it has to feel cool. And I wanted it to appeal to both the Chinese domestic market but also international markets.
To do this, I knew we needed someone with a good vision for international markets. I’ve known Simone Genatt from Broadway Asia for many years. We’ve previously presented two shows together in China, West Side Story and Hairspray, and long dreamed of creating something original together. She is very talented, very experienced – and very noisy! She knows how to create a noise with a show too.
And she has a great understanding of international markets and, of course, of Broadway and Western culture. I was well aware of the success Simone has had in a similar way with the Korean show Cookin’ [which features Korean chefs/martial arts experts. It had its international premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1999 and, with Broadway Asia, has since had a successful season Off-Broadway, been seen in more than 25 countries and become the longest-running show in Korean history].
I knew Simone was the right partner for this so I called her and said: it’s time, finally, to make our dream of working together come true.
Simone Genatt: My partner at Broadway Asia, Marc Routh, and I have a passion for the world market in live entertainment. We’re always looking for new artists and for new partners, and we’ve worked with countless over the years. CAEG are one of the best and Zhu is a true leader and visionary in the Chinese market, he’s always looking forward.
We come from very different worlds. It’s not just East versus West, or China versus America, but also coming from a large, central government entertainment enterprise, which CAEG is, versus an international, commercial production company. So no matter what, we see every situation from two, very different angles. Add to that, we’re both strong personalities! But what’s so nice about working with Zhu and his team is that we can discuss and argue and banter – which we do, all the time – and always find a way to make things work. We’ve had a tremendous collaboration to reach the end game. We’ve had to compromise on both sides, but there’s always a will to cooperate.
Zhu Ziyi: Did you know? In the Chinese language, cooperation is two symbols – because it’s two people, working together.
Simone Genatt: I like that! So Zhu came to me with the initial idea but it wasn’t developed. He said: I want to create a small show that can utilise Chinese acrobatics and Chinese traditional arts, go figure it out. That was the instruction: go figure it out.
My partner Marc and I do a lot of creative producing together. We spent a couple of weeks dreaming about this: what would we do? A show featuring Chinese acrobatics and other art forms… These are things that are rooted in hundreds and thousands of years of tradition, and we wanted to spin each and every one of them on their head. We made a list and worked our way down. Even the mask-changing [the ancient art of Bian Lan, which features in Sichuan opera], for instance, we wanted to make feel modern. So, in China Goes Pop!, it becomes part of a 21st century fashion show.
I think there are some in China who aren’t sure about China Goes Pop! because they worry that it’s messing with tradition, but in the main, audiences – especially young audiences, who are a key target for us – have been amazed. They are surprised by it, in a very good way. And the reviews we had from a tryout in Beijing last year were extremely good.
Of course, we’re also extremely lucky to have the crème de la crème of Chinese acrobats, care of the Shandong Troupe, performing the show.
Why are Chinese acrobats the best in the world?
Zhu Ziyi: Our acrobats are the best because we have a great system for training and supporting them in China. Before, the Soviet Union had the same type of system for circus performers but no more. In China, cities all over the country have acrobatic troupes and they are all funded by the government. These acrobats also play an important role in providing entertainment for our military troops.
Simone Genatt: I think Chinese acrobats are the best because the Chinese are incredibly disciplined people. As a Westerner, if you come to China and you don’t know the culture very well, it feels very chaotic. And it is chaotic, but it’s organised chaos. That’s because the people are incredibly disciplined and they work really hard whatever it is they’re doing. So, the acrobats, they drill and drill and drill and drill and it makes them the best.
Why did you want to bring China Goes Pop! to Edinburgh?
Simone Genatt: China Goes Pop! is my sixth show at the festival over 17 years, though it’s the first show for both CAEG and the Shandong Acrobatic Troupe. It has a cast of 11 and is specially produced to be accessible for touring internationally. We will definitely tour after the Fringe – deals are already under way for Europe and Asia. But Edinburgh is the first engagement outside of China and that was a conscious choice.
There is no question: the Edinburgh Fringe is the most amazing international festival in the world. There’s nothing else like it. And if you understand how to be noisy and rise above the rest of the shows there – which, as Zhu said, I definitely know how to do and which we have successfully been doing with Broadway Asia since our first Edinburgh show – there’s no other place to reach so many people from so many different parts of the world, including promoters who are looking for new shows.
A lot of people in our business believe that you have to have New York or London to go out into the world market and I know it’s not true. To say you were a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe means a lot. Edinburgh creates a launchpad for you, especially for a non-verbal show like this, which can be staged and enjoyed anywhere in the world. When Zhu and I first talked about doing China Goes Pop!, it was my dream that the first place we’d take it would be Edinburgh.
- The List names China Goes Pop in Top 25 Festival Shows!
A great accolade for the show from this highly respected Edinburgh publication.
- Life as an acrobat: In conversation with the show’s four leads
China Goes Pop! is led by four of Shandong troupe’s most experienced acrobats who also count Cirque du Soleil amongst their international credits. Gu Quinlong (27) and Zhang Xu (25) are the male and female romantic leads of the artist and muse, and are also a couple in real life. In a subplot line, Zhang Jianan (31) plays “Cool Girl” and Kong Fantao (25) is the “Male Rival”.
When and why did you first start training to become an acrobat?
Zhang Xu (Female Lead): I started learning acrobatics when I was six years’ old and I joined the troupe when I was nine. When I was six, I thought it was a dancing group and I enjoyed being onstage a lot. I loved being in the spotlight.
Gu Quinlong (Male Lead): I joined a different troupe when I was eight years old and was in it for ten years. After that, I joined Shandong.
Zhang Jianan (Cool Girl): I started training at ten. I was quite energetic as a kid and wanted to learn. I also wanted to be able to dance and perform overseas when I grew up.
Kong Fantao (Male Rival): I started at nine. I grew up in a family of performers. My grandfather was a kung-fu artist, my father was an acrobat and so was my uncle. So I’m third generation. Possibly my children will be performers too.
Tell us a little about your training.
Zhang Xu (Female Lead): When I was studying as a child, from the age of eight, I would get up at five o’clock in the morning for running and warm-up exercises. Then after breakfast to noon, it was practicing standing on my hands, flipping and other basic skills. After lunch and a nap, it was working again until 6.30. It was at night when we took our other school classes.
Gu Quinlong (Male Lead): Training is even harder for boys than for girls because we need bigger muscles. I would also start at five and run non-stop for two hours. After breakfast, there was muscle training, lifting weights, jumping and somersaults. We did all of that and more, non-stop for hours.
What did you learn from your time in Cirque du Soleil?
Zhang Jianan (Cool Girl): With Cirque du Soleil, I joined Dralion in 2010 and did the return of that show in 2015. I performed it in London in the Royal Albert Hall too. I learned a lot in Cirque du Soleil: how to present yourself, how to connect with people in the audience, how to be even more confident onstage.
What makes China Goes Pop! so different from other shows?
Zhang Xu (Female Lead): It’s very different. We’ve never had training in acting or dancing for shows we’ve done before. For China Goes Pop!, because it’s so different, we prepared for a year and a half.
Zhang Jianan (Cool Girl): Yes, in most shows in China, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to act and dance. That’s a huge challenge. Within three or four weeks rehearsing this latest run of the show [before coming to Edinburgh], I lost so much weight – I had no time to eat because we were working so hard. I am always thinking about how to improve my performance.
Kong Fantao (Male Rival): This show is a combination of Chinese and Western culture. This is very special and unique. The huge challenge for me in my role was dealing with changes in the script. For the Edinburgh run, Shanda [Sawyer], our director, gave me extra acting scenes onstage to become the playboy in the story, which was a completely new idea for me. I like it!
What’s your favourite trick in China Goes Pop!?
Zhang Xu (Female Lead): Hand balancing. That requires lots of body strength.
Gu Quinlong (Male Lead): The double silk aerial scene. I love the feeling of flying in the air.
Zhang Jianan (Cool Girl): I love the diabolo and also dancing.
Gu Quinlong and Zhang Xu, you’re a couple in real life. How did you get together? And how does that affect your performance in China Goes Pop!, in which you play a courting couple who eventually marry?
Gu Quinlong (Male Lead): We were the leads in the last show we did with Shandong. We trained together, performed together, got to know each other better and started to fall in love. Now we’re together and this show comes from the bottom of my heart because it’s full of love for her.
Zhang Xu (Female Lead): It’s very sweet to be able to perform this together.
What are you most looking forward to about coming to Edinburgh?
Gu Quinlong (Male Lead): I’ve never been to Edinburgh before, but I’ve heard there’s a beautiful old castle. I want to see that.
Zhang Xu (Female Lead): I’m most looking forward to seeing other shows in the festival. How many are there?!