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January 14, 2009 > Divine Performing Arts presents Chinese New Year Spectacular

Divine Performing Arts presents Chinese New Year Spectacular

By Simon Wong

The Divine Performing Arts is a New York-based arts company presenting classical Chinese dance and vocal pieces. Its artistic and cultural independence allow it to revive and focus on traditional forms of Chinese culture and arts. In doing so, classical themes of "beauty" and "compassion" and of "virtue" and "piety" can be presented authentically.

Since the New Year Spectacular was born in 2004, audiences have grown. In 2008, Divine Performing Arts performed in more than seventy cities in twenty countries before an audience of 600,000.

The 2009 New Year Spectacular is a collection of seventeen vignettes and four solo vocal performances spanning five millennia of Chinese culture. Each vignette has its own original choreography and score. Each is a story told through character, form, movement and musical composition. Each is also a seamless combination of dance skills, choreography, costume, color and orchestral mood that produces a shifting visual image as if a painter were working on a series of canvasses.

Whilst athleticism and stamina are a must, the performances include few of the death-defying acrobatic stunts that Western audiences often think of as representative of Chinese culture. Classical Chinese dance is so much more controlled, refined, subtle and sublime. It is true, however, that the acrobatics that other companies eschew are part of Chinese dance and not a gymnastic discipline.

On one level, one cannot fail to admire and be impressed, visually and aurally. Divine Performing Arts includes winners of top international dance and music competitions and accomplished choreographers and composers. This body of talent is unrivalled by any other Chinese dance company. The majority of the dancers were born in the United States. The vocalists are from China and now perform in the West. The Company's orchestra consists of a core classical Western orchestra complemented with traditional Chinese instruments. This enables scores that are rich in Chinese qualities.

On another level, each vignette and vocal performance is intended to make the observer think. Collectively, the philosophical and spiritual nature of the twenty-one performances gently nudges audience members to question and re-assess their own mental framework of experiences, beliefs, hopes and aspirations.

The Chinese believe everything, both natural and man-made, on earth is divinely inspired. Whether it is Confucian philosophy, Chinese folklore populated with heroes possessing extraordinary powers or Buddhism, the performances carry the recurrent themes of life and position in the world, suffering, reality and liberation.

The Udumbara's Bloom, Flowing Sleeves, Persecuted on a Sacred Path, The Mystical Phoenix, Legend of the Brush, The Miraculous Exhibit, Mulan Joins the Battle, Let Me Not Regret and the other performances all serve to illustrate these themes. The finale, Knowing the True Picture Offers Ultimate Hope, is a powerful vision of renewal and salvation.

Whilst live entertainment should inspire and lift the spirit of an audience, rarely does one also leave an auditorium with lasting food for thought. The Divine Performing Arts achieves this.

The Divine Performing Arts 2009 Chinese New Year Spectacular is presented by New Tang Dynasty Television and can be seen January 13-15 at the Flint Centre for the Performing Arts, Cupertino.

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