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2008 Chinese New Year Spectacular

Divine Performing Arts Troupe

Boston Opera House

Jan. 12, 2008

A smoky mist swirls across your vision as beautiful maidens dance forth to ethereal music in a blaze of color and glory. No, you haven’t died and gone to heaven; instead, this is the opening act of the Chinese New Year Spectacular show, which at its most transcendent makes you feel like you had (in a good way).

The touring company, the Divine Performing Arts, gave a show that consisted of classical Chinese dances, with a few musical numbers thrown in. Yet within these parameters there was an incredible amount of variety to be found — from the high grace of the Tibetan dance “Snowy Mountain, White Lotus,” to the spirited beat of the “Drummers of the Tang Court,” to the acrobatic accomplishment that was the “Mongolian Bowl Dance.”

There were even several cleverly choreographed dances that told stories, some lighthearted, some more serious and political, all beautifully done. These dances were wonderful not only for their ability to convey a message, but for their successful melding of both classical and modern elements. I was impressed by the skill of the dancers and the authenticity of the dances. Different regions of China have distinctive styles and “flair,” and the dancers and choreography were able to convey that. The excellent live orchestra (made up of both western and Chinese instruments) and the gorgeous costumes were fitting accompaniments to the performers.

Unfortunately, the musical acts did not hold up well compared to the dance numbers. The performers had marvelous voices, but the song choices were not exciting enough to do them justice. All the songs had a similar structure and sound that got old by the second number. There are so many beautiful and interesting Chinese songs to choose from, it’s a shame that the music acts seemed more like fillers to give the dancers time to change rather than outstanding acts of their own.

The exception was an unexpectedly moving piece performed with an erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument, which sounded like a cross between a violin and a bamboo flute with a peculiar beauty of its own. It was impressive how much expression the musician Xiaochun Qi was able to write out of the two-stringed bowed instrument.

I was not a big fan of the stage background, which looked like a large, low-quality television screen towering behind stage. The images themselves were well chosen, and sometimes the animation shown on screen was useful to help tell the stories, but the quality of the graphics was awful. The pictures had a neon Technicolor quality, and the special effects looked unrealistic. Standard backdrops and props would have been more stylized and thus less cheesy. Luckily, once the dancers got on stage, all eyes turned to them and away from the screen.

Another slight annoyance was the horribly hokey dialogue of the host and hostess. While their jokes were bad, however, at least the hostess was lovely and the host’s enthusiasm geniune. His Chinese was impressive as well (he wasn’t Asian). And, again, the amazing performances were more than enough to make up for the corniness of the hosts in between.

All in all, the Chinese New Year Spectacular is a wonderful showcase of Chinese dance and music. It is both a great introduction to those unfamiliar with these aspects of Chinese culture and a great treat for those who love them. It is a show that definitely lives up to its name and is a wonderful way to ring in the new year.