Spectacular 2009 Chinese New Year Historical and Cultural Celebration visits Bay Area!

Over the past several weeks, every time my wife and I entered a Costco Store, we had been engaged in a very friendly fashion by some very beautifully dressed arts promoters offering free informational brochures on the “2009 Chinese New Year Spectacular” production that was coming to San Francisco. Within a very short time, I received an invitation from Carla Befra & Company for me to attend the San Francisco production that opened last week, for a limited 5 day run. I was intrigued by the excellent information provided by the publicist, encouraging me to attend the show, even though their San Francisco run would end before my article could be published in our paper. However, when I read further that the show was moving the following week to the beautiful Flint Center in Cupertino. I reasoned that if it was truly as magnificent as advertised, then I might persuade some of you to take the drive to Cupertino to see the show.

I was not disappointed. In fact quite to the contrary, I am sure you will be as enthralled as Karen and I were with the richly vibrant and spectacular production that immersed us in the rich culture, history, dance and music of pre World War II China. This group of performers provides a full spectrum of Chinese performing arts, including modern, ethnic, folk and classical dances, exquisite costumes, operatic vocal soloists, and orchestral numbers that combine both Western and Chinese instruments.

The Divine Performing Arts International Company travels and brings their message to many different countries and people of the world. This broad based performing arts company enlightens current generations of young people and modern families with a show that attempts to foster greater understanding and preserve the beauty and integrity of one of the oldest and richest cultures in the world, a cultural history that has been sorely repressed and largely ignored since the advent and empowerment of the Chinese Communist party. The “2009 Chinese New Year Spectacular” is presented locally by New Tang Dynasty TV, a leading independent, non-profit Chinese language television broadcaster operating outside of mainland China. Reminiscent of Radio Free Europe, NTDTV broadcasts uncensored information into China via satellite. On June 16th, 2008, NTDTV’s signal to China was abruptly shut down due to severe signal interference (jamming signals) emanating from Beijing.

Legends, poetry, mystical birds, monkey kings and monks come to life, touching on the fantasy and history of many different time periods and dynasties prevalent in five thousand years of Chinese history. There are over 20 different stories and events, performed by over 60 artists and musicians over the course of the evening. Two bi-lingual hosts, Jing Xie and Benjamin Freed, introduce each segment, in Chinese and English. A huge screen at the back of the stage presents exquisite scenic backgrounds representing the countryside where each story or legend takes place.

The “Udumbara’s Bloom” (an ancient flower of Buddhist lore) is the subject of one of the dance numbers and the exquisite colors and gorgeous costumes of the dancers are almost spellbinding. The “Dragon Springs Drums” dance is a festive ethnic number in which a large group of men from the Yi region gaily perform with small octagonal drums in hand. “The Monkey King Triumphs” is an adaptation of a scene from the 16th century novel, Journey to the West. In that story, a Buddhist monk is traveling to India in search of certain scriptures and he is accompanied by an ogre, a pig and a miraculous monkey. The fanciful morality tale (performed as a dance skit) incorporates morality, magic and feminine wiles’. The dance of the “Flowing Sleeves” is absolutely beautiful to behold and “The Mongolian Chopsticks” ethnic dance is upbeat and joyful and playful. The somewhat controversial “Persecuted on a Sacred Path” skit is very definitely a heavy handed attempt to embarrass the Chinese Communist Government of China today and to address the wrongs and persecution imposed on members of the Falun Gong in China.

Many members of the company practice a form of self-cultivation called Falun Gong or Falun Dafa, a spiritual practice and advocacy that has been outlawed in China by the Communist Government. You probably remember the stories of persecution of followers of this faith in China, reported in recent years, and at least two of the musical skits performed by the company address this persecution as well as two of the songs. The first such song is entitled “Let Reason Prevail”. This song is sung quite beautifully by soprano Jianing Xu (in Chinese and projected overhead in English sub-titles). She entreats the people of the world not to be mislead by the “earthly glories” and the materialism we cling to in this “mundane world”. Shortly thereafter, in Yuan Qu’s song entitled “Finding Myself”, tenor Qu expresses quite beautifully, how confused he had been “- - until one day I finally came upon the truth, Until the Dafa (the Falun Gong Way) I had sought, pierced the ear, like thunder - - Only then did I find myself and know to hasten my steps on the spiritual path - -“.

Consequently, I get the sense that this production company is in some fashion a socio-religious group that is using this medium to do a certain amount of missionary work, albeit for the most part subliminally. At the same time, they are sharing in very beautiful fashion the culture, music and history of their root country.

Yes, Cupertino is approximately a one hour drive from Walnut Creek (between 50 and 60 miles depending on your route) (Cupertino is a city adjacent to San Jose), but then again, it takes about the same time to drive to the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Karen and I often drive to the San Jose downtown area to see shows and have dinner, and that is only about 15 minutes less of a drive.

Billed as the “largest Lunar New Year celebration outside of China, the “2009 Chinese New Year Spectacular” is truly spectacular, inspirational and spiritually endowed. While the religious aspects were certainly a very visible part of the package, they were not offensive nor overstated nor offensive. Karen and I truly came away with a greater sense of historical awareness and appreciation for the great China “that was”, and that this group hopes to restore some day!

This production moves to the Flint Center in Cupertino located at 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd, (near the intersection of highway 85 and 280 and at the Mary Drive entrance to De Anza College) this week and continues Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30, with a matinee on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m., closing on this Thursday evening, January 15th. If you call 1 (888) JOY-2009 (888-569-2009) or visit their website at http://www.sfshow.net/ you can obtain ticket information and reserve your seats. Tickets are very reasonable $30 to $80 dollars for this very spectacular event. You might want to go to http://www.mapquest.com/ and print out a map or complete directions to the Flint Center.