A Chinese New Year performance in April? I was confused, but Auntie Ning explained that the Chinese American Educational and Cultural Center (CAECC) Spring Festival event was going to be like a “Chinese Nutcracker,” a showcase of different performances–dance, music, martial arts, yo-yo–organized around a storyline to meld various Chinese New Year rites, beliefs, customs, and traditions. This was going to be much more than an ordinary variety show or dance recital. This was going to be a story.
One of Ann Arbor’s oldest Chinese cultural associations, CAECC, directed now by Chen-Oi Chin, is back on the scene after several years of quiet. Founded in 1976, it offers educational outreach and Chinese cultural classes like dance and martial arts to the community.
Last year’s Chinese Spring Festival performance opened with the littlest, cutest, most adorable children from the Ann Arbor Area Families with Children from China (A3FC2). They dressed up in their best Chinese clothes and marched one by one up to the Chinese “grandma” and “grandpa” to wish them “Happy New Year” and to receive a red envelope of lucky money–a lovely way to bring the Chinese and international adoption communities together.
Then the dance performances led us spinning and twirling through the many regions and ethnic communities of China–Tibet, Mongolia, Uyghur, Dai, and aboriginal Taiwan. The costumes were dazzling in their colors and detail, and the dancers ranged from youths to adults. There was comic relief in a dance of two cooks, and there was a graceful white peacock dance. The martial artists were amazing with their high kicks, splits, swords, and staffs. The Chinese yo-yo performance brought cheers from the crowd as spinning yo-yos flew high into the air. The guzheng (Chinese harp) was ethereal.
For the grand finale, all the performers returned to a darkened stage, each holding a paper lantern to represent the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the annual Spring Festival. A parade of glowing lanterns circled the stage, moving up and down like waves, hinting at the circling dragon dance that highlights every Lantern Festival.
Before the audience was allowed to leave, there was one more surprise. In addition to preparing all the students, costumes, programs, and props, the dance teacher had also spent half the night and morning preparing Chinese New Year dumplings for all the audience members. Chinese New Year was now complete.
This year’s CAECC Spring Festival, which revolves around the evolution of Chinese dance, is scheduled for Sunday, June 19 in the WCC Morris Lawrence Building.