Streaks of red and yellow, mythical dragons and heavenly maidens invaded Lisner Auditorium this weekend as GW helped ring in the Chinese New Year.
GW hosted the traveling Chinese New Year Spectacular performance, which takes its audience back to the country’s legendary golden age, the Tang Dynasty, with singing, dancing and traditional music. The 300-person traveling group made their eighth stop in D.C. this weekend on their 29-city world tour.
Brian Marple, a GW graduate student majoring in International Affairs with a concentration in Asian Regional Studies, is one of those 300 people and travels regularly with the performing group as a percussionist. But Marple, who was not in the performance on campus this past weekend because Lisner Auditorium doesn’t have the space to accommodate a large orchestra, said this isn’t your typical Chinese performance.
Unlike most other shows that attempt to reflect Chinese culture, the New Year Spectacular is free of influence from the Foreign Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China, Marple said.
“These performances (backed by the Communist regime) inevitably have a political purpose to them; that is, the Communist Party uses these troupes as a type of cultural diplomacy and to make itself look good,” Marple said, adding that this causes the traditional Chinese culture to be lost.
Marple said last year the Kennedy Center hosted a number of performances entitled the Month of China and shows like this are filled with images and elements of Communism, such as the color red, struggle and violence.
“Our performance troupe, being based outside of China, is one of the only Chinese performing arts troupes that is truly independent and free of these elements,” Marple said.
Jeff Chen, director of New Tang Dynasty Television, who sponsors the performance, said the point of the New Year Spectacular is to accurately familiarize people with Chinese culture. The show is in its fourth year of performances and last year it ranked seventh in Billboard Magazine’s Top Ten Shows in the U.S.
“We want to introduce traditional Chinese culture to the West, and also introduce Western customs to the East,” Chen said.
The show consists of 12 acts with each telling a different story about cultural Chinese values through original dancing and singing in brightly colored, dazzling costumes.
Some of the most important values emphasized during the show were loyalty, kindness, respect to one’s elders and defending one’s country. Chen pointed out that many of these values date back to Confucius and other influential Asian philosophers.
“Values like respect, loyalty, honesty, benevolence and tolerance are at the center of Chinese tradition,” Chen said.
The different acts told stories such as teachings from Buddha and Confucius, the celestial maidens, Tiananmen Square, the ladies of the Manchu Court and the significance of fans in Chinese culture.
Next stop – the Chinese New Year Spectacular travels on to Boston and New York City, where they will have seven performances in Radio City Music Hall.