By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Flying high from the world stage of Cirque du Soleil to local favorite Teatro ZinZanni (TZ), Ling Rui is excited to be back on stage performing for Greater Seattle area audiences.
TZ engages, transforms, educates, and delights audiences with a unique celebration of cirque, comedy, and cabaret in an intimate live experience. TZ’s main event is part-circus and part-cabaret.
Born in 1982 in Chongqing, China, Ling started gymnastics at 6 years old and entered a Chinese circus when he was 12. He then transitioned from gymnastics to acrobatics. He joined Cirque du Soleil when he was 18 and performed with them until 2006.
Ling and his then-partner joined TZ because they wanted to try something new to diversify their careers.
He has been performing on and off with TZ since 2007, and his last performance was in 2016 at the previous Queen Anne location.
Ling explained that the TZ team pulled him out of retirement since he hadn’t performed in the last three years. He had to decline their invite to perform last year, but he missed the TZ family and environment so much that he decided to return in 2019.
“As long as I’m still physically able to do this, I’ll still do it,” he said.
Directing in China
Prior to returning to the TZ stage, Ling had been working in China as a show director for the past three years. In China, Ling doesn’t perform because he’s involved in a lot of the behind the scenes work.
“Directing has always been a dream for me,” he said.
He also worked as the associate director for the Atlantis Sanya Hotel in China, which opened two years ago where he was responsible for all entertainment programs for the resort. He collaborated with the famous Franco Dragone for the programming.
Teatro ZinZanni today
TZ’s program changes every six months or so, and new characters are introduced every so often.
Since its founding in 1998, TZ has produced over 60 shows in the Seattle area, featuring dozens of artists from around the globe.
In the last show, Ling sang in Chinese, but the current program, “A Night Like This!” is directed by a different person, with different acts and storylines. Ling looks forward to the different challenges with each performance.
Ling said that TZ is one of the only performances of its kind, combining a dinner show with acrobatic performances.
Ling practices his act for about 30 to 60 minutes daily. However, he makes sure he doesn’t overexert his muscles by practicing too much—he finds the right balance, especially when the performances take place twice a day. With the holiday season approaching, there are matinee performances in addition to the evening shows.
For Ling, it’s a very fun experience performing so close to the audience. The audience engagement and interaction is truly one of the unique factors of the show.
“The hardest thing for me is that I want to look effortless for the audience, but actually it takes a lot of strength,” Ling said.
Ling said that he does get scared during a performance, even though he’s not up that high.
He recalled a recent incident where one hand slipped during the show, and he had to maintain his stamina and power in his arms to continue the performance.
As he adjusts to the new story, Ling has to practice to get used to the new characters he plays. For example, in “This Night Only,” he is performing to a live band, unlike the last show.
“No one else will notice the tempo, but if there’s any change in that, it causes me stress in the air because I’ve timed when I go up and down and I can’t stay in the air for too long,” he explained.
That type of change can be challenging and dangerous when performing. One of his priorities is to bring his different characters to life.
Sometimes that can be tricky.
In the last program that was restaurant-themed, Ling’s character transforms and comes out of a fortune cookie. He noted that when his Chinese friends saw it, they didn’t think much of it.
However, a guest who saw the show left a comment calling the act racist.
“I’m very proud to be Chinese, and fortune cookies are an American thing. The challenge is how do we balance the jokes because there’s a fine line between comedy and racism,” he said.
He went on to explain that the comment, as well as the post-Trump era, has made him think more so that he can be more culturally sensitive about his future roles and performances.
Above all else, Ling described TZ as a very international and diverse cast with performers from Russia, England, and other countries.
Ling is currently staying in housing in Redmond provided by the show. On the weekends, he enjoys spending time with his fellow performers.
“Zinzanni is such a unit, I really wanted to be back with the family. It’s such a different experience, so different and interactive and it’s so fun to see the audience’s faces. People get so excited and their reactions really melt our hearts,” he said.
“A Night Like This!” runs through Feb. 9, 2020 in Woodinville at the former Red Hook Brewery location.
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.