Newsday (New York City): An Interview with a Holiday Wonders Performer
December 16, 2007
For the fifth year, a Manhasset mother and daughter will alternately choreograph and perform in two holiday shows intended to share Chinese culture with Western audiences.
With more than 200 dancers, musicians, vocalists and a live orchestra, "Holiday Wonders" moves into the Beacon Theatre Tuesday night. The two-hour, East-meets-West recital incorporates American elements of the season, such as ballet, a brass ensemble and an appearance by Santa Claus. It's a presentation of New Tang Dynasty Television, a Manhattan-based Chinese network.
A month later, "The NTDTV Chinese New Year Spectacular" -- as its name implies, a celebration of the Chinese New Year -- will be staged at Radio City Music Hall.
Pi-Chuan Chen, who is in her 70s, is choreographing several numbers for the Chinese New Year show and has arranged movements for "Holiday Wonders" in years past. Meanwhile, daughter Doris Chan, who is in her 40s, will perform in the "Holiday Wonders" show as a member of the Renaissance Dance Troupe.
Their efforts, they say, present a more accurate representation of Chinese folk dancing than audiences can experience anywhere today -- including China.
"Anything that is associated with a God, like some of the folk dancing, hasn't been taught under the Communists," Chan said last week at her home in Manhasset. As she spoke, her mother occasionally chimed in, mixing both Cantonese and English.
Chinese dances have often been created to express society's respect for morality, compassion, loyalty, wisdom or trustworthiness. But such themes have not been significantly showcased in the arts in the last half century, says Jenny Fang, a spokeswoman for NTDTV. China has been more preoccupied with commercialism in the arts, she says.
As a young woman in Canton province, Chen studied dance at the Beijing Academy of Drama. Later, she was a lead dancer with the South China Dance Troupe. Chan was raised as her mother was dancing with the troupe. Both women emigrated to New York from China in 1978.
After settling in, Chen taught at Chinese cultural centers in Manhattan and Westchester, as well as public schools in Chinatown. Chan studied computer science at SUNY Old Westbury and now works for the United Nations.
In 2003, Chen's talent attracted the attention of NTDTV executives, who were organizing a live show for the holiday. They had music, but needed a dance to accompany it. When her responsibilities grew to include advising on costumes and recruiting dancers, Chen persuaded her daughter to participate. "She asked me for help teaching, because I had been exposed to some of the dances as a teenager. Then she said, 'You've got to be in it, because you know everything already,'" says Chan.
The Renaissance Dance Troupe will perform Mongolian, Manchurian and Korean dances. Chan is featured in the Korean dance.
Her mother says she's grateful to have Doris as a translator. "She helps me, because some dancers speak to me in English and I can't present it so well," says Chen. Doris, meanwhile, says she is "proud" to be associated with work choreographed by her mother. "I get to work with her to share Chinese culture with Westerners."
When & Where: "Holiday Wonders," Tuesday through Dec. 26 at the Beacon Theatre, 2124 Broadway between W. 74th and 75th streets. Tickets are $48-$200. "NTDTV Chinese New Year Spectacular," Jan. 30-Feb. 9 at Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Avenue of the Americas. Tickets are $58 and up. Visit holidaywonders.net or chinesesplendor.com.