Leap of mutual faith
A spectacular show of Chinese acrobatics highlighted strength, flexibility and balance to encourage inter-cultural exchange. By Saatvik Jha
At half past six on a friday, the roads were jammed. Lines emerging from the NCUI auditorium spilled out on to the street. Chinese nationals could be seen disembarking from minibuses in groups, beside Indian families and youngsters, pouring into the complex. It was a diverse gathering with African, American and European faces, a rare sight amid the crowd. The occasion was the Chinese New Year and celebrations took place in the form of an evening filled with music, dance, magic and world-class acrobatic prowess. China’s finest arts troupes performed a variety of pieces that evening, each to resplendent applause. Graced by dignitaries and commoners alike, the event began with a few words from the organisers — the Chinese Embassy, in cooperation with the India-China Economic and Cultural Council.
“According to the Chinese lunar calendar”, remarked Luo Zhaohui, China’s Ambassador to India, “we are going to embrace the Year of the Earth Dog in 6 days. In the Chinese culture, the dog is regarded as a symbol of loyalty, bravery and good luck.” The audience sat bedecked with red neck scarves handed out at the venue to mark the festivities, as the ambassador continued, “The Spring Festival is the most important festival in China. It’s all about family reunion. The practice is similar to Diwali in India. Before the Spring Festival, every family will have a house clean-up and decoration. On the Eve of the Spring Festival, the whole family will have dinner together with children setting off firecrackers waiting earnestly for the arrival of the New Year. During the Spring Festival, relatives and friends gather together to exchange gifts and red envelopes of money given by the elders.”
In the spirit of changing times, the lighting of the lamp was done using a Chinese jet lighter. Following this, the ambassador observed the impact of modernisation and prosperity with the way the festival is celebrated, “More Chinese people celebrate the Spring Festival by way of travelling. With China’s economy improving, people are growing richer and the traffic is becoming convenient due to modern technology with high-speed railways. Celebrating the Spring Festival by travelling is the new trend. I even came across some Chinese people driving to the Arctic Circle to celebrate the Chinese New Year when I was the Chinese Ambassador to Canada.” Mirroring the Indian spirit of festivities, the ambassador’s comments reflect how holiday cheer is a sentiment expressed in the same way, universally.
This similarity extends to the backdrop of climate change which is a fate looming over the entire world. On this front, the ambassador was conscientious in his consideration, “People set off less fireworks now since people are advocating green lifestyle. A lot of cities in China have banned fireworks during the Spring Festival.” Sharing an environmental crisis akin to New Delhi’s, Beijing has imposed severe anti-pollution regulations in recent years. Reuters’ estimates indicate that average levels of pollutants in Beijing have dropped by roughly 35 per cent from 2012. Between Zhaohui and Amarendra Khatua, guest of honour and Director General of the ICCR, a lot was said about bolstering cultural and economic ties between the two nations. With China serving as its prime economic partner, India has much catching up to do in terms of climate change.
With an array of dazzling presentations — courtesy of the Guangxi Culture and Art Troupe, a travelling performance arts collective with a rich history dating back to 1952. The performances opened with ‘New Year Greetings’, a splendid group dance performance set to enthusiastic music. With ebullient smiles plastered throughout, the skilled performers took the stage with confidence. Presenting acrobatics from the get-go, the opening performance featured male dancers effortlessly balancing their female colleagues on their hands while both moved their bodies to the rhythm of the music. In a nod to tradition, the dancers manoeuvred red lamps on-stage while performing.
The heights of physical flexibility displayed at the onset were a consistent feature of the evening. Each dance performance was crafted to complement yet surpass those preceding it in various respects. Spinning Blankets featured a dancer with virtually unbounded flexibility. On a pink base with red cloth spinning at the end of her limbs, the dancer contorted her body into imagery representing a flowering lotus. Blooming Jasmines saw a change of scenery, the dancers presented a range of emotions while performing with turquoise blue umbrellas— each with a jasmine emblazoned on the fabric. In every instance, the dancers were adorned with stunning headgear and attire, designed around the theme. One of the later presentations was titled, ‘Thousand Hands Bodhisattva’. Acknowledging the Indo-Chinese cultural link with Buddhism, this group dance performance featured a column of dancers swathed in golden attire. With golden claws attached to their fingers, a powerful marvel was wrought on stage as they performed in impeccable coordination to project the image of a thousand hands.
Musical performances stole the spotlight between acrobatic marvels, with three solo performances. Among them was ‘Young Girl of India’, where a stunning songstress performed soulfully while dancers around her performed in Bollywood style, dressed in Indian attire with Chinese headgear. The musical range of Chinese wind instruments was demonstrated by an outstanding flautist, who performed ‘Five Kinds of National Music’. He emulated the sound of chirping birds as acrobats enhanced the spectacle in the background. Soon, the Indian audience began clapping to the rhythm of the music, true to their character. The clapping was infectious, with international guests joining in the appreciation to create a truly Indo-Chinese experience for all present.
Magic was another highlight of the evening, with two magical performances. The first, a fusion of acrobatics with magic, was ‘Magic Cube’. Two performers seized the stage with their synergy, dancing to the beat of techno. Weaving in and out of metal structures spun around their bodies by hand, the audience witnessed the performers spinning a metal frame, a tetrahedron, and finally a cube. The showstealer, however, was ‘Mulan’. Titled in reference to Chinese lore, this show has won awards internationally. The magician herself is a renowned judge of magic events in China. She captivated the audience by entering decked in war clothing, shield, bow, et al. Her garb transformed multiple times in split seconds, becoming a summer maiden and finally, wreathed in Chinese traditional wear. All the while, she performed fantastical feats faster than the audience could bat its eyelids. Cards flit from her sleeves into the air, spinning like flowers. Cloth would emerge from the abyss and float as the magician deftly waltzed around the stage. It was truly the experience of a lifetime.
These performances culminated in a final group dance, radiating the forceful energy that had characterised the night so far. The Year of the Dog was ushered in with great pomp and cheer, doing justice to China’s rich heritage. Chinese acrobatics have been a cultural hallmark for centuries, an apt medium with which to herald the future. Audiences of all creeds and colours left NCUI with smiles on their faces that night, awaiting the Chinese Lunar New Year on February 15.
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