Fri, Sep 09, 2016 - Page 3 News List

Acrobat Lee Tang-hua dies at 91

FOUNDER:The ‘father of acrobatic performance’ learned to juggle in Shanghai when he was eight years old and founded the Chinese Folk Arts Training Center in Taiwan

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Lee Tang-hua (李棠華), known as the father of acrobatic performance art in Taiwan, died on Wednesday afternoon at the Cardinal Tien Hospital in New Taipei City. He was 91.

According to the New Image Theater Group, for which Lee had been an artistic consultant in recent years, his family declined all requests for an interview, as they were making funeral arrangements.

The group posted a brief message on Facebook in memory of “the master.”

“The words carved on the numerous awards might seem blurry now, and the photographs of the acrobatic performances might already be yellowed, but that did not put a dent on the iridescent era of Lee Tang-hua acrobats. The performances drew hundreds of thousands of viewers both at home and overseas and made a mark in the nation’s diplomatic history. He will forever be remembered as the pride of all performance artists,” the message said.

Born in China’s Hunan Province, Lee lived in Hankou in Hubei Province before moving to Taiwan in 1949.

He said he had learned juggling when he was eight years old and established a performance troupe in Shanghai in 1945, later founding the Chinese Folk Arts Training Center in Taiwan.

The center was the first organization in the nation that trained acrobats for public performances.

Lee’s troupe served as goodwill ambassadors and performed in more than 30 countries around the world from the 1960s to the 1990s.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on May 12, 1989, published a report about a performance.

“These freshly scrubbed young athletes from Taiwan — ages 8 through 16 — are well-schooled and disciplined in the incredibly strenuous art of Chinese acrobatics. They juggle and tumble with ease, diving over and under each other in fast-paced routines that were well-received by the American schoolchildren,” the report said.

“The peak, actually and figuratively, of the performance, is the human pyramid, which rose above the curtain. In fact, the stage at the Allegheny Middle School wasn’t big enough to show this troupe’s range of talents,” it said.

Some of the acrobats training or performing with Lee’s troupe went on to form their own troupes, such as New Image Theater Group manager Wang Kuan-hua (王光華). Others become members of the Troupe of Acrobatics at the National Taiwan College of Performing Arts.

Despite the numerous contributions Lee’s troupe made to the nation, Lee said in a statement he wrote five years ago that it pained him to see the waning development of acrobatics in Taiwan.

“I have been in the business for 75 years and have seen its rise and fall. Acrobatics in the nation cannot secure the massive amount of resources granted to other mainstream arts,” he wrote.

“Meanwhile, because of the grueling training, not many parents would like to send their children to acrobatics school, which has caused a succession crisis, while acrobats in foreign countries continue to perform at local circuses and in other countries around the world,” he said.

Lee said that he sincerely hoped that the next generation of passionate Taiwanese acrobats would rise up and accept the torch from those who went before them.

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