Talent spotting proves a juggling act for Phillip
Humour is a funny business. Do not buy into the idea that laughter is a universal language.
The man who sources acts for the Chinese State Circus knows that not all jokes cross cultural boundaries.
Artistic director Phillip Gandey has made more than 200 trips to the east Asian country hunting for acts to bring to the UK.
"Some of the comedy is fantastic," he says. "But some of it would not work here. I saw a fantastic impressionist who did lots of different birds and animals. He was very funny.
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"But his big finale was an impression of a pig having its throat cut. It brought the house down!"
Fortunately there is no shortage of acts more in tune to British tastes on the current tour, which comes to Plymouth Pavilions on March 11 and 12.
"I've been putting these shows together for 20 years and I go all over China to see acts that talent scouts have spotted. You think you have seen it all and then there is one who makes you go 'wow'."
Current "wows" include some comedy which does translate, "a very funny" Monkey King character; Shaolin master, The One; and Phillip's personal favourite, a ballet duo. "She does point work on his head and shoulders; absolutely sensational," he says.
Phillip is happy to report that despite the pace of change he has witnessed in his two decades visiting China, as the huge country has gone from economic backwater to genuine super power, the great tradition of circus-style performance still thrives.
"The country has been transformed and getting around is now much easier than it used to be," says much-travelled Phillip.
"The old skills that go back over 2,000 years are still there. Chinese circus performers are the best in the world. There is nowhere else where you can see skills like this.
"The Russian circus schools are closing because they are not getting state funding, but the Chinese ones are still going. They do their academic studies alongside their circus studies.
"Circus is seen as a career. They will have been training for ten or 11 years before they start performing."
Expect, then, all the crowd pleasers, including aerial ballet on the silk ropes, lion dancers, hoop diving, the astonishing Chinese poles and more flips, tumbles and cartwheels than you could shake a chopstick at.
About the only thing you will not see is audience participation.
"There is no tradition of that over there," says Phillip.
The show will, though, answer the question, "How many Chinese acrobats can you fit on a bicycle?"
Apparently the answer is "ten".
You can count the trick cyclists on March 11 and 12 when the Chinese State Circus visits Plymouth Pavilions.