By Anita Raymon
Gung hoy fat choy in the Year of the Snake, 4699!
In downtown Flushing last Saturday, there was the traditional huge parade, complete with drums, symbols and dragon dancers to usher in the New Year for many Queens Asian families. There were children dressed in Chinese and Korean costumes in predominantly red and gold embroidered fabric, colors symbolizing good luck and prosperity.
New Year is a time to reflect on the past and look forward to great happiness and fulfillment in the future. Community members turned out in huge numbers to enjoy the sights, sounds and traditional foods of their culture.
The locus of the tribute to Chinese culture took place at the impressive Main Street branch of the Queens Borough Public Library on Kissena Boulevard. There were craft classes for children in the morning and the afternoon's festivities were devoted to the music and dance, both modern and traditional.
“The New Americans Program presents the sights and sounds of different world cultures to the people of Queens; so it is a learning experience for all,” said Ruth Herzberg, manager of the Flushing Library.
Herzberg introduced the Music from China group, which performs traditional and contemporary Chinese music to audiences in New York City and across the rest of America. Besides presenting concerts, they give lectures, demonstrations, workshops, and arts-in-education events. They sponsor the annual Premiere Works series at Merkin Concert Hall and the Chinese Composers in America concerts on tour.
Gao Renyang, Min Xiaofen, Wang Guowei and Helen Yee presented music from different provinces of China, each with its unique style and instruments. There were bamboo flutes – “dizi” and “hulisi” – an instrument like a lute, which is a two- string fiddles, and a hammered dulcimer. All the instruments were beautifully made, painted with polished lacquer and decorated with dragon heads.
The players, using wonderful finger dexterity, used music to celebrate landscapes, animals, birds, horsemen and special occasions.
The pieces included “Year of Happiness,” composed by Liu Mingyuan; “A Fishing Song” by Yan Tieming, a tune that's indigenous to the Dai people in Yunan Province; and “Ambush on Ten Sides” marking a historic battle. This particular piece evoked the sounds of clashing swords, soldiers' frenzied cries, the fury of the elements., and the essential horror of war.
The performers were awarded with sustained applause from the audience.
The second part of the program showcased the dancers from the Chinese Cultural Center who are to perform at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 199 Chambers St. in Manhattan at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11. They use music specially recorded in China on traditional instruments.
This group of young, talented dancers were Danhong Li, Amy Chin (director of the dance company), Chun Nuan Liu and Xiaoling Yang. They involved the audience in hand and finger exercises, so much a part of Chinese choreography. The children especially were thrilled to be able to make the shapes of a bird's head, eye and body with their fingers.
Many in China and other Asian countries consider the new year to be everyone's birthday, so all become a year older on that day. In the audience, H. Ma from Corona, accompanied by her three daughters – Solana, 9, Sophia, 7, and Sephronia 5, all dressed alike – described the tradition, well-known by her little girls. In fact, Sephronia was most upset when her mother said she was 5 years old instead of 6.
Amy Chin related on stage some of the origins of Chinese dance. “The most important part of the dance is interpretation using different limbs, hands and fingers as well as dance-steps and colorful costumes and props,” she said.
One popular dance represented the Monkey King jumping, scratching, darting around the stage. He also twirled a long silver baton until it looked like a whirlwind. He was dressed in traditional colors of yellow and black, with white face make-up and large, red rings accenting his eyes.
The performers repeated their magic the next day, Sunday, at Colden Center at Queens College.
To contact Music from China, call 212-941-8733, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website: www.musicfromchina.org for information about children's music classes and other future presentations.
Visit the library in Main Street. It's a great way to experience Chinese culture without having to travel – and it's free.
Reach Qguide writer Anita Raymon by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.