Renowned acrobat Li Liu returns to Smith Wilkes

Award-winning acrobat Li Liu was born in northeast China and began her career at only 6 years old. Both her parents were also acrobats, and they brought her into the familial and cultural fold. 

At age 7, she was selected for the prestigious Chinese National Circus School and moved to Beijing. There, she trained for 8 hours a day in hand balancing, traditional Chinese dance, ballet and more. It was an intense schedule, but her parents wanted her to develop a special skill to give her more opportunities.

ERIN CLARK / daily file photo Chinese acrobat Li Liu invites children to dance with ribbons during her performance July 18, 2017, in Smith Wilkes Hall.

“You’re learning those things, and the point is, your parents are trying to give you a better life,” Liu said.

Liu, who last performed at Chautauqua in 2017, will perform as part of the Family Entertainment Series at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 5, in Smith Wilkes Hall. 

Liu used to perform a duo act with her sister Ying Liu, coached by their father. The Liu sisters won the Golden Lion Award for their hand balancing act in 1995 at the Wuqiao International Circus Festival. 

Although Liu has traveled all over the world, performing in countries such as the Netherlands, South Africa and Singapore, she calls the United States her home.

“I’ve been to a lot of different countries, and I like visiting them, but I wouldn’t like to live there,” Liu said. “Here, I feel more freedom, and I feel very happy.”

Liu first traveled to the United States in 2000 with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. After touring the country with the circus for three years, she decided to settle down and stay. Liu said that experiencing the world and living here has taught her a great deal and changed her for the better.

“People here are so warm,” she said. “I can walk down the street and say ‘hi,’ talk to people, even if I don’t know them. I think when you can connect with other people, it makes you happy.”

Over four decades into her career, Liu is going strong. She now performs a solo act, which she loves, because it allows her creative control.

Her act involves a number of eye-popping feats. Liu spins six plates at a time, three on each hand, and performs gravity-defying hand balancing tricks. She juggles diabolos, or Chinese yo-yos, and celebrates her culture with a traditional Chinese ribbon dance.

Now, many of Liu’s shows are for families and children. She invites audience participants on stage and teaches them some of her dances. She enjoys the proximity of attendees at schools, libraries and other family entertainment venues.

“I feel you have a connection with the audience,” Liu said.

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The author Ellen E. Mintzer

Ellen E. Mintzer is the theater beat reporter for The Chautauquan Daily this summer. She recently earned her Master of Arts in arts journalism and communications from Syracuse University. As a freelance arts and culture journalist, she’s written reviews and features about theater, opera, dance, film and more. Ellen loves weird niche comedy, psychological horror and provocative contemporary theater. (A Strange Loop is the best work of art she saw this year.) She is absolutely thrilled to be spending her summer in Chautauqua and covering its theatrical offerings and beyond.