Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Celebrating 30 years of Chinese Culture in NB

The Chinese Cultural Association of New Brunswick hosted their 30th Anniversary Extravaganza on Saturday night, and I was lucky enough to be gifted with two tickets by that generous organization. Husband and I had the best seats in the house - literally front row, center - and I got some photos of the festivities for posterity. This is just a sample of what we saw - I've left a number of performances out just because detailing them all would've become overwhelming. (Clicking on pictures will bring up bigger - in some cases, much bigger! - versions.)

The opening act was the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra, recently returned from a visit to the Forbidden City, who played two Chinese pieces they'd learned. They were just about to release a CD of music from that tour.
Next came the Blessing of the Lions, celebrating the lion's role in Chinese culture as a protector, guardian, and bringer of good luck. There were actually 3 lions onstage (red, white and gold) but I couldn't get all 3 of them in one shot, so large was the stage and so close were we to the action.

(Interesting side note: the white lion's head spent a couple of months in my office after a festival while the CCANB got around to having someone pick it up for their next festival. Best office-mate I ever had.)

Aww. How can you possibly go wrong with cute little girls? This dance - the Pearl Jubilee Celebration Dance - was commissioned especially for the event.

Cute bigger girls with parasols never hurts either. The CCANB has both senior and junior dance troupes, including many boys and girls, and is one of the best amateur children's dance groups I've ever seen.

Now we're getting serious. This is NiuSao, a graduate of the Chinese Opera School and later a student of the He Nan Drama Academy. Since immigrating to Canada she's continued performing Chinese opera and dance. Here she was performing a song from Pavilion of a Hundred Flowers, in which the character of Princess Consort Yang Guifei expresses her embarrassment and anger at being kept waiting by the Emperor.

These kids did a dance called "Far Away on a Hilltop" - a remarkable hip-hop-infused reworking of a harvest dance from the Amei region of Taiwan. Everything from moves to costumes were Taiwanese - with - a - modern - urban - twist. It was incredibly creative and fun.

The Ribbon Dance actually got its beginning when extremely long sleeves were worn by Chinese performers and integrated into dance. (NiuSao actually demonstrated that for us during her opera performance, above, whirling like a dervish while her long sleeves swirled around her.) In the modern version, the girls come running out with what look like silk flowers on the end of sticks; at the right moment, all release their "flower" as a bright stream of ribbon.

You may have encountered this before - a Filipino Tinikling Dance. Two people rap two large bamboo poles on the floor, opening and closing them rhythmically. The tinikling dancers delicately hop in and out of the sticks as they open and shut, dancing in, out, through and around the moving poles. The trick is not to get caught in the poles as they snap shut!

There were two performances of classical Chinese works on traditional Chinese instruments. Regrettably, they must have been late additions because they are not listed in the program, so I don't know the name of either. (They were introduced, but due to my hearing I couldn't catch the details.) The lady playing the latter one pictured opened with a Chinese adaptation of Red River Valley, which has apparently been adopted into the Chinese repertoire.

NiuSao joined us again with a dramatic excerpt from the classic Chinese opera Mulan (only tangentially recognizable, apparently, from the Disney adaptation). Those are feathers sprouting from the headdress of her remarkable costume, and they looked even longer in real life than they do here.

NiuSao is a remarkable presence onstage. She has quite a unique kind of composure and dramatic flair. Part of it came from realizing this woman-of-a-certain-age was confidently - supremely confidently - wearing parts written for teenagers. Whatever it was, she was quite a feast for the eyes and ears.

NiuSao later joined us for a demonstration of Opera Face-Changing, an art in which opera masters rapidly change masks they are wearing. Originally, they rapidly changed their faces with coloured powders or pastes concealed in their hands. Later they used layers of masks made of oiled paper or pig bladder. Today they use painted silk masks. I regret that I have no photos of that for you, but I was not going to miss one second of that performance! She changed masks about six times, each time turning away with a shake of her head and turning back to reveal a completely different colour and expression. It was the highlight of the evening, I think, for me. No, the first opera performance was. No, it was a draw. A three-way draw with Mulan.

What was that I was saying about how you can't go wrong with pretty girls in pretty costumes? One of the big numbers of the evening was called the Feathered Fan Dance, said to be a favourite of Chinese nobility through the ages.

It should be noted that Chinese Culture is extremely varied, and before the evening ended, there was a parade of traditional costume from no less than 14 ethnic groups that live in China. Those above are just a sample - unfortunately they came and went too fast for me to be able to remember which these are.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, came back onstage for the finale, which featured confetti cannons blasting a final burst of colour over everything. (Again, I've captured just a fraction of the action.) That's the evening's Artistic Director in the center taking a much-deserved bow.

It was a truly fun evening and a well deserved celebration for a group that works incredibly hard to preserve their culture and customs in their new home. I was so grateful to be invited to attend.




Blogger Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Beautiful pictures. I love the colors and the motion in the Ribbon Dance.

We used to do tinikling in elementary school PE!

2:45 p.m.  
Blogger Xtreme English said...

incredible photos! the chinese are a generous people to share their beauty and culture with us.

11:32 a.m.  

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