Comedic opera brings Chinese culture outdoors in New York

Updated: 2013-07-29 11:11

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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 Comedic opera brings Chinese culture outdoors in New York

In the style of Beijing opera, actors perform Romance of the Iron Bow at Lincoln Center, New York City, which runs through Aug 11. Caroline Berg / China Daily

Families, couples and friends gathered under a light canopy of green foliage in New York Friday evening to watch a Chinese comedy. Although the star of the show, Alan Chow, has performed Romance of the Iron Bow for 20 years, he never tires of the story.

"He's got a true passion for Chinese opera," said Rong Rong Chen, program director and principle singer for the Chinese American Arts Council (CAAC).

The Beijing-style opera Romance of the Iron Bow was part of the Lincoln Center Out of Doors summer program, which annually showcases world-class music, dance and spoken word programs free for the public. This year's program runs July 24-Aug 11, and is sponsored by Bloomberg and Bank of America.

CAAC has partnered with Lincoln Center to help immerse New York audiences in Chinese culture since 1975 when Chow founded the organization. He has been the board director and artistic director for CAAC ever since.

"Every year we bring Chinese cultural programs to Lincoln Center, including acrobatics, Chinese opera, martial arts or contemporary Chinese opera," Chen said. "Lincoln Center chose this opera, which is a comedy, this year because they thought it would be more accessible to the audience."

Chen estimated that annual attendance is split between 70 percent non-Chinese and 30 percent Chinese. No subtitles were provided for Friday's performance, which included five actors and 10 musicians. Nevertheless, Chen said the nature of the opera allows the audience to easily follow along even without knowledge of the Chinese language.

The opera is set in China's northern Shanxi province where a mother, played by Chow, and daughter run a small teahouse in the city of Taiyuan. While traveling, the son of a commander meets the daughter, becomes smitten by her beauty and attempts to take her by force. A tale of women warriors, thwarted lovers and mistaken identities ensues.

"The storyline is funny," Chow told China Daily, fully costumed with a colorful headdress framing a face painted white with red lipstick and dramatic red eye shadow.

The organization aims to meet the cultural needs of the expanding Chinese community in New York, preserve the Chinese heritage within this community and introduce Chinese culture to the greater New York community.

CAAC presents 10-12 exhibitions annually of Asian American visual artists in its own Gallery 456, among other venues such as Lincoln Center. Its outdoor and indoor performances feature modern and traditional Chinese theater, dance, vocal and instrumental concerts by high caliber Chinese American artists.

Other programs supported by CAAC this year have included a photography exhibit about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender life in China, a Chinese painting and calligraphy exhibit, an in-progress kinetic art exhibit by a Taiwan artist, a dual exhibit by two Taiwan painters, and a Chinese New Year celebration at Lincoln Center.

The organization is supported in part by the funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and New York City Cultural Affairs Department.

"I'm really interested in helping spread Chinese culture in New York," said Qingfeng Li, one of the actors, who has studied Chinese martial arts for 11 years.

Li, who is 23 and moved to New York from China just more than a year ago, found his passion for his trade by watching Chinese martial arts films as a child. Now, his goal is to break into the US film industry and incorporate his kung fu background into a movie career.

Meanwhile, he continues to perform with CAAC, as he did Friday night in front of a live and intimate audience on the plaza at Lincoln Center.

(China Daily USA 07/29/2013 page2)