Balancing on 7m tower of chairs no sweat for daredevil Cirque du Soleil artiste

Candice Cai
AsiaOne
Jun 22, 2017

For Chinese national Yao Deng Bo, 39, being an acrobat is his life, and he couldn't imagine doing anything else.

One would think so, as Cirque Du Soleil's resident 'Chinese Chair' performer has been training in the art form since he was 6 years old.

The native of Huainan picked up gymnastics and acrobatics at the encouragement of his father - an avid fan of the sport.

After winning awards and performing live on TV shows in China, Yao was asked to join Cirque Du Soleil's Kooza, its brand new show then. That was in 2007.

In the 10 years since, he has performed the same act - the 'Chinese Chair', countless of times. The 15-minute performance entails stacking eight chairs atop one another on a platform, before performing balancing acts from the peak of the precarious 7-metre high tower.

As part of his training when he was younger, it was not unusual for Yao to spend his breaks just 'resting' on a stack of chairs metres off the ground.

The years of practice shows, as Yao performs with such precision and fluidity that some critics have even accused him of 'cheating' by placing magnets on the chairs to keep them stable.

"(Performing the act) is no longer difficult", Yao admits, but "what is hard is to be consistent from show to show, day after day".

Even as he approaches his 40th birthday in September, the diminutive acrobat could easily pass off as someone in his 20s. One gets the sense he's proud of his how he looks as he teases us to guess his age.

And the secret to his youthful appearance? Resting well and staying healthy.

For sure, being this fit requires sacrifice, and Yao has consistently maintained his weight at 54kg for 20 years now - thanks to a regime that includes training, eating healthily,  and also ensuring that he only eats till he's 70 per cent full at mealtimes.

"If I put on just 2kg, I can feel it, and it's harder for me to perform," said Yao, who thinks his size and stature lend themselves well to requirements of the act.

The daredevil also boasts that he never used to rely on safety harnesses or nets until he joined Cirque, where the safety of performers is a top priority.

It's a thrill Yao gets, as he takes pride in testing his limits and overcoming what others perceive as impossible.

"Everyone can do a handstand on the ground, but can you do it metres above the ground, without a safety net? The feeling is different," says Yao.

Despite generally having nerves of steel, Yao has his occasional off-days when anxiety creeps in.

And he does what most of us will do: "I'll take deep breaths to calm myself down. The hardest part is controlling your mind and emotions." 

Ironically, despite his passion for his craft, the proud father of two doesn't want his children, aged 7 and 3, to follow in his footsteps.

"It's a tough life. You must start when you're really young," said Yao, whose wife was also an acrobat. The family travels around the world with him and the troupe.

Despite his regimented schedule as a performer, what spurs him on to continue and strive to do better show after show, is undoubtedly the audience.

"The greatest satisfaction (of doing this) comes from the audience' applause, to have that kind of encouragement is just great," says Yao with a smile.

candicec@sph.com.sg

Cirque du Soleil is back with Kooza, its fifth show in Singapore. It's back to basics this time round as Kooza returns to the traditional form of a circus, with a strong emphasis on clown art and acrobatics.

The performance will debut in the troupe's signature blue and yellow Big Top from July 12 on Bayfront Avenue, next to Marina Bay Sands.

Tickets are on sale from $88. Bookings can be made online at Sistic, via telephone at 6348 5555 or in person at the Big Top.

STOMP IS GIVING AWAY TICKETS TO KOOZA!

We are giving away 10 pairs of Reserve A tickets worth $186 per ticket to Cirque du Soleil Kooza on July 25, 8pm.

Here's how you stand a chance to win:

Email us at stomp@stomp.com.sg with the subject 'I want to see Kooza!' and tell us why you want to see the show and with whom.

Entries must be submitted by 11.59pm on July 3, 2017.

Good luck!

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