San Francisco Chronicle: 'Chinese New Year Spectacular': Heavy on history and tradition, show stops in San Francisco
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
As if the Chinese New Year parade and celebration weren't grand enough, this year San Francisco is hosting the traveling "Chinese New Year Spectacular," an enormous show in its second year that is being billed as "the largest Lunar New Year celebration" outside China. It's presented by New Tang Dynasty TV, an independent, nonprofit Chinese-language television broadcaster that operates outside of China.
The show's choreographer and principal dancer, Vina Lee, laughs when asked what her favorite parts of the epic show are. "Oh, there's so much!" she says. There are 40 separate "programs" in the show, each of which portrays a part of Chinese history or showcases traditional Lunar New Year stories. The Imperial Palace is evoked, warriors clash, goddesses descend from heaven. Modernity hasn't been ignored in this production either: Lee says that one program deals with contemporary Chinese society and critiques the government's treatment of Falun Gong practitioners. "Elements of this story," she notes, "are happening now."
Lee fled China after the Tiananmen Square conflict and says that one of the primary motivations for this show was to spotlight pre-Maoist Chinese history. "Chinese New Year is a time to celebrate family. It's pretty much like Christmastime," Lee says. "We thought about doing it not just to be entertaining but to review our history, to bring back the principles of the country."
Those principles include "compassion, tolerance, beauty. ... These very fundamental principles to Chinese culture have been lost and damaged during the Communist regime," she says.
Another challenge in plumbing Chinese history was to create a show that would interest Chinese and non-Chinese alike - people who would know the old stories by heart and those who didn't have a background in the traditional performances. "It is both ways," says Lee, noting that there will be dialogue and lyrics in English and Chinese throughout the show. "I think people, no matter the background, will find it easy to follow the show's ideas."
With 60 performers onstage and an orchestra, there's much to see and hear during the "New Year Spectacular." "The opening act, don't miss the first one," she counsels. "It's such a stunning picture. The opening scene is bringing a message from a long time ago.
"Of course, people like the drum dance, it's very powerful, and some audiences would say they like softer, more traditional parts. ... Some people say they like the myth stories, some like the lyrics. And some people, they say they love every single piece."
8 p.m. today, 2 and 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Through Sat. $28-$98. Orpheum Theatre,
192 Market St., S.F. (415) 512-7770. www.shnsf.com.