Projecting the image of a world leader content with its place in history, the Chinese government presented a spectacle last week in Chicago. Ancient arts met modern music to the delight of the Windy City.
This ethnically diverse world-class showcase was presented in the magnificent Auditorium Theater off Michigan Avenue - "The 2010 World Peace Gala." More than 3,500 Chicagoans witnessed the mesmerizing event.
The event -- "Carnival, China Style" -- featured over 70 magnificent performing artists from China providing a blend of singing, dancing, opera, folk music, and acrobatics, allowed Chicagoans the rare opportunity to witness the various beautiful ethnic cultural arts from various China nationalities, including the Han, Uygur, Mongolian, Tibetan, Miao and Yi cultures.
It was an "Up With People" presentation, but with Lincoln Center production values - and in Mandarin and English both. Parts of it were reminiscent of Cirque de Soleil. Drawing on 5,000 years of Chinese culture, the show featured astonishing scenery and was amazing, dignified, and gripping.
At times strong, then soft -- occasionally sing-song -- the performers had the audience clapping in unison to their unique blend of tightly disciplined, elegant, hypnotic music and spectacle. The costumes were simply splendid.
I would guess that most Americans have never seen nor heard played the instruments played on stage. They were played at times with a jazz-like quality, sometimes melodic. The complete package was outstanding.
With perfect timing and symmetry, the sophisticated evening was playful, regal, the performers dazzled the packed auditorium. It was perfection beyond the impossible - beyond my own imagination.
The often smoke-covered stage was reminiscent of fog rolling down the green mountains into the rice fields below.
Performers were cast from across China, including from the Beijing Dance Academy and the China Broadcasting Chamber Orchestra.
There are more than 300 types of Chinese opera. Perhaps 50 kinds of theses - The Peking Opera, Yue Opera, Henan Opera - may be considered the most popular, each with its own unique style of singing.
Two pieces, "Happy Spring Evening" and "Axi Dances with the Moon," were first seen during the Qing Dynasty 120 years ago. Both songs were simple, peaceful, and smooth with varied rhythms. Each had clever and meticulous orchestration and harmonious performances.
"Axi Dances with the Moon" vividly depicts the fascinating scenery of the moonlight of the Yangze River in spring. The darkness closing in as the sun sinks downwards, the sound of Xiao welcomes the evening with a full moon.
People boating on the river, next to green hills dotted by flower trees on both banks of the river and the bright moon reflecting among the waves mixed with the caressing sounds of the paddling boats.
The whole music is as artistic as a long scroll of paper with fine brushwork in soft colors, attractively clear, beautiful and elegant. It is a cherished traditional music popular both at home and abroad.
The Yi people in China have an old legend: In spring, the A Xi people of the Yi tribes, would cultivate their land by sowing on their "burning field" by the moonlight. People worked barefooted in the burnt fields whilst the ashes were still hot.
Therefore, when their feet were burning, they would jump several times shouting "hey, hey!", thus forming the basic dance steps.
The famous musicians in the China Broadcasting Ensemble of National Music, very skillfully, joined the performance. The two-stringed Chinese fiddles (erhu), pipas, and flutes were working together harmoniously, showing the rich expressive force and unique charm of Chinese musical instruments.
"Song of Harmony" is a perfect combination of ancient Chinese music, poetry and dance. It expresses the unique music and dance form during the Chinese Han Dynasty - singing and dancing by stepping on the musical trays and drums.
Sponsored by the China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese and the China Broadcasting Performing Arts Troupe with Chicago-based China Star Media Corporation as the host, the event featured marvelous artistic performances of the China Broadcasting Performing Arts Troupe.
Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW) and the World Harmony Fund were special guests at the performance, each receiving a portion of the proceeds for the evening's event.
China, which has 56 ethnic groups, has developed a unique and amazing art of its own, richly diverse and highly comprehensive, encompassing all forms and styles.
The evening provided a brilliant framework to build peace and understanding through culture. Chinese movements were exhibited that seemed to pre-date tap dance, opera, ballet, hip-hop - even our hula hoop (rings)!
The successful evening was attended by the Consul General of China and other dignitaries, including officials from the Chinese Ministry of Culture and many business and civic leaders of Chicago. China may now lead the world in cultural performances.
The Snow Lotus Three Sisters, a maiden trio from Tibet, moved the audience with their pure, lingering vocals, vividly rendering with their voices the vast realm of Mother Nature.
This same trio performed for Barack Obama as he toured China last October. These Three Sisters won huge rounds of applause and offered an encore performance of another authentic Tibetan folk song.
"Modern Soft Acrobatism" has inherited the essence of traditional Chinese acrobatics, and has a unique artistic style and sense of innovation. The actors' skills in their waist, legs and upper body were fully shown.
Chinese calligraphy and painting are a unique art, both with their own rhythms. They are closely linked with Chinese music and dance culture, showing aesthetic feelings in building shape lines, music rhythms and postures in dance.
The Chinese seven-stringed zither is one of the oldest plucked instruments, dating back more than 4,000 years to as early as the time of Confucius. For its clear, harmonious, light and elegant quality, the Chinese seven-stringed zither completely shows the characteristics of Chinese music.
The piece "Yuefu's Rhyme of Painting" has been listed as UNESCO's "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" since it has combined a variety of art forms such as calligraphy, painting, music and dance into one.
I heartily congratulate the Chinese leadership that made this global peace initiative possible in the backyard of our president, Barack Obama. They have made an impressive gesture to support peace and build intercultural understanding.
Edited by Margaret J. O'Connor. Photos by John Lee unless otherwise noted.
Related stories by Jim Luce:
U.N. Birthday Rocks For Its Peacemakers (Huffington Post)
Itzhak Perlman to Perform at Lincoln Center to Eradicate Polio (Huffington Post)
Young Korean-American Hahn-Bin Wows Carnegie Hall in Debut Performance (Huffington Post)
Tibet: Polar Perspectives. Can Both Sides Be Heard? (Huffington Post)
Global China Connection: From Columbia to Stanford and McGill (Huffington Post)
Spotlight on the Annabella Gonzalez Dance Theater (Huffington Post)
Park Avenue's Nichibei Exchange - and the Japanese Flute (Huffington Post)
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