More than 250 performers took the stage in New Haven Saturday to celebrate the first-ever Connecticut Chinese Arts Festival.
Organized by the North American Chinese Performing Art Association, Inc., the festival — held in Battell Chapel — featured Chinese ethnic music and dance from more than 200 Chinese vocalists from Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, Boston’s Angel Dance Troupe, and the internationally acclaimed Chinese violinist Siqing Lu. The event drew crowds from across Connecticut, as well as Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
“Our history is so rich in colorful music and dance,” said Weijun Qiao, president of the NACPAA and artistic director of the Festival. “This special night not only allowed the Chinese residents of Connecticut to come together and celebrate this history, but also brought it to the non-Chinese American community.”
Qiao said the growing Chinese population in Connecticut, the historical presence of Yale University and the friendliness of its local residents all made New Haven an ideal venue for the festival.
“It has always been a dream of mine to bring this festival to Connecticut, especially since [its residents] have never had a Chinese cultural show like this,” said Qiao. “They needed this kind of event.”
Qiao directed and conducted the group of choirs, which included the host Connecticut Chinese Choral Arts Association, Chinese choruses based in Acton, Andover, Newton and Sharon, Mass., Boston’s Yellow River Art Society and Rhode Island’s Art Ensemble of Love My China. The groups collaborated to perform a total of 12 songs, which Qiao said represented a mix of Chinese folk music and classic American tunes — a blend of the East and West.
The Angel Dance Troupe, led by Ke Ke of Somerville, Mass., livened the stage with their renditions of a Han folk song called “Utmost Happiness,” a playful dance from southern China called “Inner Reaches of Bamboo Bushes” and a colorful duet, the Zheng.
“We’re trying to depict happiness — harmony,” said troupe member You You Wu of the unifying theme of the pieces. “Basically, share and celebrate all the good feelings in the world.”
Ke Ke, who choreographed and directed the dances, said she created the pieces to give the audiences a flavor of the ancient and ethnic traditions of Chinese dance.
“The different dances represent the different cultures of different regions of China, their values, living environments, means of artistic appreciation and philosophies,” Ke Ke said. “I hope that through the dances, the audience can appreciate these different cultures. We’re here to build a bridge of understanding between the East and the West.”
Wu said the experience of performing on Yale’s campus was “thrilling” for the members of the troupe.
“Yale is a very famous university,” she said. “We performed not only on a stage, but at a historical site.”
The event’s second half featured the world-renowned Chinese solo violinist Siqing Lu, who performed six pieces, including his most famous work, an interpretation of “Butterfly Lovers” that has sold over a million copies worldwide. Lu has been featured as a soloist in more than 30 countries with the world’s most prestigious orchestras, and his performances have been televised and broadcast internationally.
Wei Yuan, member of the First Connecticut Chinese Arts Working Committee, said she was pleasantly surprised to see the active interest community members took in the event.
“We were all sold out really early,” she said. “There wasn’t even a single ticket left by the last week.”
Indeed, most who attended the event said it lived up to their expectations. Lu received multiple standing ovations and audience members were effusive about the performances.
Shijar Feng ’09 was very enthusiastic about the show, and said her favorite performance was Li’s “simply stunning” musical presentation.
But Casey Breves ’09 said he wished more Yale students and faculty had gotten the opportunity to experience the festival.
“The festival was absolutely remarkable — breathtaking,” Breves said. “I’m surprised that more students didn’t know about it. It’s such a pity that there wasn’t a bigger turnout from the Yale community.”
Yong Zhao FES ’08 said though he enjoyed the event, he wished the audience had been more respectful of the performers.
“It was so nice to listen to voices and music from my homeland,” he said. “But it wasn’t the best environment for an event like this. The audience was very diverse in age, and some of the smaller children made noise through the earlier performances.”
Qiao said he was encouraged by the Festival’s success and looks forward to holding a variation of the event in New Haven again next year.