Nick Fogarty  |  ABC Goulburn Murray  |  Wednesday 24th September 2014

Australian circus changed forever when a small group of Chinese acrobats arrived in Albury in 1983. Three decades later, the partnership continues.

Back in 1983, a group of Chinese acrobats arrived in Albury for a cultural exchange that would change the face of Australian circus arts.

The Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe were on a strictly controlled, state-sponsored visit to mentor artists at the fledgling Flying Fruit Fly Circus.

One of those wide-eyed students was the Fruit Flies’ current training director, Scott Grayland.

This week, 31 years after their initial visit, Mr Grayland welcomed the world-renowned Nanjing troupe back to Albury for a two-week training project.

“It was kind of life-changing really,” Mr Grayland said.

“At that time China had only just begun to open to the west and no Chinese acrobatic troupe or trainers had ever taught their skills to western students.

“The legacy of that training program still resonates in Australia, even today.”

Philosophical contrast

As the Nanjing acrobats teach today’s Fruit Fly students some of their tricks, Lu Guang Rong watches on.

Mr Lu experienced the 1983 visit from the other side, as a trainer with the Chinese group.

He was so taken with Australia that he stayed in Albury for the next 14 years, before becoming head of circus at Melbourne’s National Institute of Circus Arts.

Then, as now, he said, he was fascinated by the differences in Australian and Chinese teaching philosophies.

“I do value the Fruit Fly very highly, and how they use circus not just for performing,” he said.

“For example, individual confidence, the well-being of individual life … as well as achieve the professional level as a circus artist.

“Obviously [the Fruit Flies are] much more mature. Technically, artistically, they’re far better than 30 years ago.”

As the artistic consultant of the Melbourne Festival’s Nanjing Project, set to feature the visiting Chinese artists, Mr Lu is very interested in their current form.

Two of the young acrobats, Gao Lin and Liu Xin, perform a trick in which she stands, teetering on one leg, as he holds her metres above the ground with one arm.

A group of Fruit Fly students sit on the floor, taking it all in.

Genaveive Neal said they’d been seeing some “pretty spectacular” skills from the Chinese visitors.

“I saw a photo of the trainer who’s teaching us foot [juggling] and she was balancing maybe five at the same time,” she said.

“It’s pretty crazy.”

IMAGE: Nick Fogarty (photo of Lu Guang Rong)
ORIGINAL SOURCE: www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2014/09/24/4093831.htm