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Acrobatics is more than poetry in motion in China

By Biju Dwarakanath | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-19 06:23
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Biju Dwarakanath [Photo provided to China Daily]

Nearly 20 years ago, as a rookie copy editor working for a business daily in my hometown, Bangalore, I had occasion to go on an official trip to London, my first to a foreign land, courtesy of a British air carrier that had decided to take a few business journalists on a junket to mark its inaugural direct flight from the city.

As I was running around frantically checking last-minute details, I vividly remember a senior colleague telling me how it was such a remarkable coincidence that I would be traveling to the very place and mingle with the very same people who had ruled us for around a century.

Be that as it may, I was nevertheless impressed by London's impeccable architecture and, of course, its quaint double-decker buses and taxis.

Four years after that eventful journey, I was to make a second intrepid one to Beijing — an experience that is closer to my heart for a number of reasons.

China, I knew, could rival the UK any day with its unique tapestry of history and culture.

However, it was not the pull of a mighty civilization, but four lines of dazzling beauty that had for long captivated me about all things Chinese.

"Flocks of birds have flown high and away,

A solitary drift of cloud, too, has gone wandering on,

And I sit alone with Ching Ting peak towering beyond,

The mountain and I, we never grow tired of each other."

It was in my fifth or sixth grade at school. I distinctly recall this intriguing verse snippet, attributed to the famed Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Li Bai, tucked away in a chapter of my history textbook. To me, it didn't really matter why these sublime words happened to find place in a social sciences text, but suffice it to say, I was mesmerized by the poem, as well as the poet.

The nostalgia these words have evoked since for an unknown place and culture thousands of miles away is hard to describe. It was only last year, having returned to Beijing to work, that I learned more about the poem and the man who — along with fellow Tang Dynasty poets such as Du Fu — will remain forever etched in the hearts of poetry aficionados here.

Li manages to evocatively convey an emotion that vaults across centuries, time and language barriers.

It is probably this verse that made me inexplicably fall in love with Chinese music, movies, poetry and, not to forget, acrobatics as well.

While I have been a Chinese movie buff for years now, and was fortunate enough to witness a Chinese traditional music performance at the National Centre for the Performing Arts last year, its poetry is, of course, a different cup of tea, and I wouldn't dare approach it flippantly.

The life of Li and his close friend Gao Shi, another renowned poet from the same period, and Du have been chronicled in the animated movie Chang'an, which I missed when it hit the theaters last year but hope to watch once it appears on a streaming platform.

However, what I do not want to miss seeing live is a performance by the Chinese acrobatics team, which is showcasing its skills at an auditorium nearby.

My interest in Chinese acrobatics was also piqued back in the 1980s after watching an hourlong videotape somewhat misleadingly titled Chinese Circus.

So fascinated have I been with their performance that, I must confess, the tape has been reinserted countless number of times into the videocassette recorder and played over and over again at every available opportunity.

Now, at last, here's my chance to watch them up close, and regale friends and family back home about their daring as well as dexterity.

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