Arts & Culture

Festival brings traditional, contemporary Chinese acts to College Hill

Lunar New Year celebration features diverse performances from Providence-, Boston-based schools

By
Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Chinese Students and Scholars Association’s sold-out Spring Festival Gala started at 7:30 p.m. Sunday night, but the Salomon Hall lobby was packed by 6:45 p.m. Students, faculty members, alums and family members from the Providence and Boston areas waited in line, eager to enter the auditorium and take their seats.

“This is madness, but it’s good madness,” said Coleen Chan, vice president of Rhode Island School of Design’s Chinese Students Association.

Right on schedule, the lights dimmed, and the celebration commenced.

The festival celebrated the Lunar New Year with traditional and contemporary performances. For the first time, local schools participated — including RISD and Johnson and Wales University — in addition to the Massachusetts of Institute of Technology and Boston University, as well as Providence community groups. This year’s festival, the organization’s largest annual event, was dedicated to the Year of the Monkey.

The night began with a performance by the Rhode Island Kung Fu Club as two lions, each with a pair of performers inside, danced to the beat of traditional Chinese drums playing in the background. The crowed clapped and cheered with excitement, and in the blink of an eye, the performance was over.

Four festival hosts dressed in Chinese attire then took the stage. Three of the four hosts were native Chinese speakers.

The hosts welcomed the crowd in Chinese, an introduction comically interrupted by RISD student Dennis Crawec’s mention of his “selfie stick,” which he used to take a photo of the hosts and the audience.

Qu Guangzhou, a counselor at the New York Chinese Embassy, stepped on stage to wish attendees a “happy, healthy, productive and prosperous new Year of the Monkey.”

Though the introduction was delivered almost entirely in Chinese, the event’s organizers hoped the night would appeal to non-Chinese speakers.

“We want to have diversity in the festival while also having some cultural Chinese elements,” said Yimou Li ’17, president of CSSA.

Li hoped people unfamiliar with Chinese culture would come to the event “because that’s one purpose of the festival, to have everyone get together and celebrate the Lunar New Year,” he said.

“Our goal is for everyone to feel that they can find some sense of family at Brown,” he said.

“We want to avoid too much exclusiveness, just in case audience members don’t understand Chinese, so there are a lot of performances that don’t include talking, which everyone can enjoy,” Li said.  He added that language is not a big problem because “even if you don’t speak Chinese, there are songs, dances and Kung Fu you can watch as well as enjoying the celebratory atmosphere.”

In addition to Lunar New Year, the gala was also meant to celebrate Valentine’s Day, said Yun Gao GS, vice president of CSSA.

Some of the performances, including a love song duet, were dedicated to Valentine’s Day, Li said, adding that “everyone in attendance gets a red rose.”

“We have prizes to attract more attendance,” Gao said, adding that donors supplied funds for prizes. In addition, various departments and campus offices sponsored the event.

“Without the support of Brown’s departments as well as the University’s Student Activities Office, the event wouldn’t be possible,” Li said.

Crystal Liu, GS,  said she was excited for the lottery, but was most looking forward to meeting more Chinese people. 

“Usually, I only talk to the people I am in class with, and I never have the chance to meet people with the same heritage as mine. So the festival is a great opportunity to meet new people,” Liu said, adding that last year’s festival was great but that she could not wait to see the new performances from other schools.

The addition of performing groups from other institutions made the event more diverse and more exciting, Gao said. 

Brown’s Lion Dance group, the only lion dance group in Rhode Island, performed a traditional dance routine. “It’s cool to expose people to the dancing and the cultural heritage,” Steven Brownstone ’16 said.

Because of the wide variety of performances, Li said CSSA was expecting a diverse audience.

“We are reaching out to a broader Chinese community,” Li said. In previous years, the audience has mostly consisted of Brown students, but this year, the CSSA’s outreach council has gone to Chinese communities in Providence and invited them to the event, she added.

Li hopes to continue collaborating with RISD, JWU and other local schools and groups. “The process with JWU and RISD has been smooth, and we have established a lot of friendships,” he said.

“Everyone is happy collaborating with each other,” Gao said. Both Gao and Li hope the University of Rhode Island will participate next year and intend to invite Brown’s a cappella groups to the ceremony.

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