CLC theater sponsors Chinese New Year celebration

Erik Raaum

The James Lumber Center sponsored the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company’s celebration recital.

The performance was live-streamed on Friday, Feb. 12, and Saturday, Feb. 13 by the New Jersey-based Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company.

Friday was the first day of the new year.

The performance included original dances and music from the company, inspired by traditional Chinese culture.

Performances included a 3,000-year-old “Double Lion Dance,” which is “considered a prayer of peace,” according to the company’s website, and a “Chinese Bamboo Rap,” an ancient form of spoken word poetry done to the rhythm of handheld bamboo clappers.

After the show, the dance company discussed the show and took questions from the audience through chat.

During the panel, choreographer Nai-Ni Chen discussed fusing traditional and modern dance.

“It’s important to preserve the tradition, but at the same time, we never stop creating new [styles],” she said. “We had folk dance; we had Chinese opera, even Chinese acrobats, but also one to two modern [dances].”

Chen said Chinese New Year is “the biggest celebration in China.”

The holiday is based on the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, based on phases of the moon rather than Earth’s rotation around the sun like western calendars.

Each year represents one of 12 Zodiac symbols, with the new year being the year of the ox.

            CLC professor Helen Zhang told me each symbol represents “a different personality” for children born that year, similar to western astrology.

            For kids born this year, the ox represents “loyalty, honesty, and hard work,” Zhang said.

Helen Zhang

Helen Zhang

Traditionally, new year’s celebrations last 15 days, though the largest celebrations take place on Chinese New Year’s Eve and concludes with the famous Lantern Festival.

            On the eve of the new year, Zhang said, it’s common to “have a big family reunion dinner,” then “wait until past midnight… to say goodbye to the past year.”

Much like our new year celebrations, concerts and other live entertainment are common in China as the lunar year comes to an end.

Last year, Professor Zhang held a large, schoolwide celebration.

“I opened my class to the whole campus… and hosted a big celebration.” 

Everyone could come to the class to learn about Chinese mythology, hear from Chinese international students on their experiences, and eat dumplings prepared by the culinary arts department.

This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, celebrations will be limited to her virtual classes. “This year, I will briefly discuss the story of the Zodiac animals and share the activities people do to celebrate Chinese New Year,” she said.

“CLC is… a very diverse community. We have a great Chinese program and a [Chinese] study abroad program,” Zhang said, “There are a lot of Chinese students studying here, [and] I think it’s important to value different cultures.”