Dai Shucheng supports a full load of Chinese flying boards.
In his entire 40-year worldwide performance career, Dai Shucheng said he had never seen anything like the IJA convention. Likewise conventioneers got a first-time glimpse of a delicate ancient Chinese manipulative form -- the flying boards.
The IJA's guest artist at the San Jose convention tossed up to five of the cross-tied sticks in flight around his body. He caught each one surely between his palms as it circled back to him, then waved happily to the last one as it approached as if saying, "Come home, you're safe now!"
Dressed in a shining gold silk costume, he used two-, four- and six-bladed models of the "fei-pan." He carried them as flat sticks with rounded ends in a small case. Two and three pieces were then tied together at the center with a deft spin of a small piece of string. The larger ones were fitted with a spike that allowed it to settle into his hat, still spinning. Another would land on the hat of a doll he held with a mouthstick.
Dai Shucheng required a large hall to perform his flying boards, tossing them well out over the audience. Ventilation was cut off before his act to avoid upsetting the flight of the props.
He performed in both the "Sensations" and "Delights" shows, hopping merrily across the stage and constantly smiling, giving the impression of a happy man playing with trained birds.
"The Chinese look at an act as a unity of many arts -- costumes, physical skills, the backdrop and the music," said Dai Shucheng through a translator. "I developed the fei-pan as an act, but it belongs to China."
The fei-pan came to art from hunting and war. Mongolian tribes used it in battle and to kill game in much the same way Aboriginal people used boomerangs. Born into a circus family, Dai Shucheng began performing as an 8-year-old juggler in Shanghi in 1944. He juggled clubs and balls, and also practiced the art of swinging jars of water without spilling them. Shortly before moving to Ha Er Bin in the Hei Long Jiang province, he and a teacher began developing his act with the fei-pan. That has been his interest ever since.
The 90 performers of the Hei Long Jiang Acrobatic Troupe, of which he is a member, perform for about 90 government functions and community meetings a year throughout China. Other acts include magicians, spinning plates, animal acts, umbrella manipulation, vase balancing, jumping through rings, ice skating, bicycle riding, acrobatics and "dragon dancers."
Dai Shucheng serves as a team leader of a Hei Long Jiang juggling, magic and comedy troupe. The largely honorific title signifies his leadership position. He is also a correspondent for the magazine, "Acrobatism and Magic," a bi-monthly publication of the Chinese Acrobatic Artists Association. He took voluminous notes at the IJA convention and many rolls of photographs for a story he planned to write about his trip to San Jose, which was also his first visit to America.
There is no organization of jugglers in China, he said, but the China Acrobatic Artists Association serves many of the same functions. In 1967 there was a month-long festival of acrobatic troupes from throughout the country in Peking, and the association was one result. It now comprises almost 3,000 members from the 29 major Chinese troupes, and held another big festival in 1983. The latter festival featured competitions between acts. A Hei Long Jiang artist received the top prize for parasol manipulation.
"The government wants Chinese troupes to compete in festivals around the world and win awards," said Dai Shucheng. Chinese acts have done so at the annual Cirque de Demain in Paris and Circus Festival in Monte Carlo. Last March there was a meeting of representatives from Chinese troupes urging them to travel and spread their art abroad. Dai Shucheng's name was put in a pool of people deemed worthy of representing their country's artists, and he got his opportunity when the IJA began looking for a Chinese guest artist for San Jose.
"I am very impressed at how you can organize such a big group of jugglers," he said as he looked over the gym floor. "I expected to see juggling in America, but I'm surprised at how many people are here and at how well they perform."
He also brought with him a scholarly paper on historical background and usage of the fei-pan. Here are some excerpts:
The flying board now consists of the following shapes: 1) Two winged, much like a boomerang; 2) Four winged in an "X" shape; 3) Six winged.
I have developed flying board skills into five types: hurling, catching, hitting, bouncing and falling. These are mastered through many years of artistic practice.
HURLING: 1) Throwing one board to the right and one to the left at the same time. The two pass in mid-flight and continue back to the thrower. 2) Throwing three parallel boards at the same time, making them fly high, middle and low so that they look like the silver swallows flying in formation. 3) Throwing four boards at the same time with different force. When the first is caught, throw it immediately as before and continue to catch and throw again each one. The four flying boards will form a moving vase in the air. 4) Throw six boards one by one and catch them as they return. 5) Throw four boards in succession and turn a somersault before catching them.
CATCHING: 1) "A Baby Waving Hands" is throwing three boards in succession from two hands. The hands catch the first two to return, and the third is caught on a toy baby's head. While the three continue to spin, the baby waves its hands at the audience through means of a control in the performer's mouth.
Dai Shucheng and his waving baby demonstrate the fei-pan.
2) "Full Blossom on Four Sides" is throwing two boards from each hand in succession. Catch the first two in each hand, the third on the head and the fourth on the tip of the toe.
HITTING: 1) "Hitting the Flower" is when a returning board knocks a flower out of the mouth of an assistant and returns to the performer's hand. 2) Throw a two-winged board that knocks a flower off of the performer's hat when it returns to him. He then catches it in his hand.
A two-bladed board flies home to clip the flower off Dai Shucheng's hat.
BOUNCING: The above skills are performed by hands. Bouncing is acted out by carrying a miniboard on one hand and flicking it up. The board will rebound to the actor's hand.
FALLING: "A Phoenix Seeking Her Next." After the flying board leaps out, it falls to the intended spot without fault and continues to spin.
I hope to discuss with my counterparts from each country the making of the flying boards, training of actors, creation of new movements and other aspects to improve acrobatics on an international scale.
If you would like to find out more, you may write Dai Shucheng c/o Hei Long Jiang Acrobatics Troupe, Kang Ning Road, Nan Gang District, Ha Er Bin, China.