The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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August 9, 2013

Chinese acrobats entertain visitors year-round

BRANSON, Mo. — Cindy Merry said she knows why the Acrobats of China are so popular in Branson.

"The type of performance is unique, and it's not something that you can see just anywhere or any day," said Merry, a longtime Branson attraction publicist and marketer. "Everybody has a huge appreciation for the skills and the daring, different types of things that they do with their bodies. It has colorful costumes, and it's fun, and I also think there is an appreciation for the Chinese."

Since 1997, the Acrobats of China, featuring the New Shanghai Circus, have entertained Branson visitors with their feats of acrobatics, dance, strength and balance. Merry, who has worked on the troupe's marketing staff since its Branson debut, said it was the first international act to set up full-time residence in the Ozarks entertainment community.

"They performed at other people's theaters until 2005," Merry said of the revolving troupe of 40-plus entertainers. "The current (Acrobats) theater was built especially for them. In fact, Bill Daily, one of Branson's founding entertainment fathers who owned several theaters, built the theater especially for them."

While the Acrobats' theater, located at 645 Missouri Highway 165, is the show's permanent home, the troupes that perform there are always changing.

"We always bring different troupes every year," said Merry of the young performers who range in age from 8 to 24 years old. "The current troupe is leaving this month and a new troupe arrives. They will do different acts. Some of the acts will be the same, but a lot will be different. This troupe that's coming will not be the same troupe you will see early next year."

The New Shanghai Circus performs in Branson year-round. In 2014, Merry said, the only days off the acrobats will have are Mondays and Tuesdays in January.

Merry said that keeping the troupes fresh is key to their international success. There are a lot of acrobats from which to choose in China, and much thought goes into the show's production, she explained.

"In China, each province has its own acrobatics association," said Merry. "Our troupes are members of the Chinese National Acrobatics Association. In the province that Shanghai is in, there are several different troupes and different troupes from the Beijing area, too. We contract with the different troupes in those places that our producer sees and likes."

Merry bragged about the quality of the acrobats who perform in Branson and about the skill level they bring to the show.

"The acrobats in many of the troupes we get are trained in the same schools as Chinese Olympic athletes and gymnasts that you see," she said. "We always say that we get the pretty ones."

Merry said she is always impressed with the number of children who marvel at the acrobats' daring stunts and agile moves. She also knows the show's audience can sometimes be as international as the performers on stage.

"The show is obviously appealing to Americans of all nationalities and colors and faiths," she said. "We get a lot of church groups and military groups. Every year we tour our troupes, and we've taken them to Greece and France and Indonesia and done two or three stints on Broadway."

She also said that a lot of Americans, especially ones that are really involved in athletics, appreciate the show because they recognize just how difficult those maneuvers are. Merry's husband, she said, is one of those people.

"He was a gymnast, and when he watches the human strength and beauty part of the show, he is just in awe," she said. "It shows incredibly precise moves. ... The strength it takes to do that and still look so elegant is amazing."

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