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Heilongjiang arts and dance troupe waltzes through Bay Area

By Chang Jun in San Francisco | China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-02-28 14:56
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The atmosphere in an event room at the San Jose Museum of Art was abuzz with excitement on Friday afternoon. Adults and children alike were bursting into laughter and uttering guffaws right and left.

Four-year old Xixi stood transfixed in front of a booth where a clay figure was being made. She watched as the artist went through each step - shaping the form, setting the mold, carving and finally coloring.

She was one of about 100 American children who attended the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival event.

What captured their imagination were the demonstrations and performances by artists from the Beijing intangible heritage preservation group and Heilongjiang song and dance troupe.

On the stage, performers showcased Peking Opera masks, clay figure making, diabolo, shadow puppet shows, hoop trundling, paper cutting, kites and woodblock pictures - all typical art forms listed as China's intangible cultural heritage.

The point was to explain why the celebration is deep-rooted in the culture and daily rituals of the Chinese people.

Meanwhile, the Heilongjiang artists in exquisitely colored costumes showed how one ethnic group creates festive bliss through group dances and singing. The northeast region known for its ice, snow and winter chill has been making its unique Manchu-Han hybrid culture known in recent years.

Traveling to the West Coast to join the chorus of locals celebrating the Chinese New Year, the two groups arrived last week and have been on a busy schedule shuffling back and forth to perform in schools, museums and community centers.

"We gather here today to kick off our serial celebration featuring Chinese troupes entering into the local schools to spread the spirit of Chinese New Year," said Luo Ping, organizer of the Friday event.

"We the first generation Chinese immigrants are proud of being Chinese and our culture. We hope that we and our children can share our tradition and culture with others," she added.

"I hope our children are able to understand why Chinese shadow puppetry is so long-lived as an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment," said Luo. "Not many people know that China's shadow puppet show originated during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD)."

Shadow puppetry shows traditionally use opaque, often articulated figures in front of an illuminated backdrop to create the illusion of moving images. They require a whole team to function seamlessly for a smoothly told story.

Linda Fischetti, manager of the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose that was hosting the two groups the next day, said the nice part was to "see all the organizations coming together" to celebrate cultural diversity.

Through different forms of art exchange, people of can connect more easily, she said.

"I like to celebrate, you like to celebrate. We know about dance and we have music, you know about dance and you have music. People can feel the commonality," she explained.

She marveled at how a culture put all of these elements together - dance, music, costuming and celebrations. "It's phenomenal," she said.

Xu Xinhao, director of the Heilongjiang Troupe, said his 27 members were taking this American culture exchange seriously.

"We've been carefully selecting programs and performers. We want to show American audiences the very best part of our Spring Festival tradition," Xu said.

According to the itinerary, Xu and his team flew to Las Vegas to make their US debut and then wind milled among four schools in the Bay Area plus put on a demonstration at a street fair in San Francisco.

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