Albany Celebrates Chinese New Year
In the lobby of the Egg on Saturday afternoon, eager voices could be heard inquiring if tickets were still available to the sold-out Amazing China event that marked the height of Chinese New Year festivities in the Capital Region.
The two-hour event co-sponsored by the Confucius Institute at the University at Albany and the Chinese Community Center of Capital District of New York, featured a program packed with displays of Chinese culture, ranging from flute solos to martial arts displays, from local kids and Chinese performers alike. The enthusiasm in the air was tangible, as parents and grandparents shepherded young children into the auditorium and groups clamored to buy bubble tea and red bean buns from the stalls lining the entrance hall.
The fireworks and party hats of the Gregorian Jan. 1 New Year’s festivities are no match for the ceremonies of the Lunar New Year. Even midnight kisses and champagne fail to compare to a celebration that spans 15 days, that began this year on Jan. 2, and will continue until its culmination with the Lantern Festival on Feb. 11.
“It’s like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s combined,” explained Youqin Huang, director of the Confucius Institute, in her opening address.
Acts originating from the Chinese Community Center that co-sponsored the event, bookended the program. They opened on an adorable note, with the first grade students from the Chinese School at the CCC performing a dance number entitled “Hold Your Hand” with their parents.
The CCC also provided the Chorus that performed the closing numbers, with the acts in between coming from the Confucius Institute and other community organization, all uniting to usher in the Year of the Rooster, the zodiac animal that is celebrated as representing this 4715 lunar year.
Throughout the showcase of performances that ensued, the audience was welcomed into the traditions demonstrated. Though most of the audience were immigrants or of Chinese descent, no knowledge of Chinese culture or heritage was assumed. Instead context and education were offered warmly, uniting those of every background to join in cherishing and appreciating its richness.
The vibrant dress donned by visiting performers from Binghamton University took center stage in their presentation of Beijing Opera. But as English and Chinese subtitles both bounced behind them, the audience, able to follow along, found themselves just as enraptured by the drama between the costumed characters.
Though a battle scene, in “Defeating Jiao Zan” the leads danced as much as they fought, and despite being an opera, they didn’t sing at all. Nor were the later Opera selections any more akin to Western Operas, but there was no shortage of music in the successive acts.
A solitary figure in elegant sequins, Wenwen Chen took the stage next with her pipa, a traditional instrument. Though she was seated as she strummed the pear-shaped lute, she retained a captivating stage presence; head bowed and knees swayed, her whole body pulsated and moved back and forth to play the instrument.
Before breaking for intermission, the audience was treated to two more acts. First, the Kung Fu students of the Chinese Martial Arts Academy, who flipped and kicked across stage in colorful silk uniforms with impressive prowess for their young ages. The diversity of Chinese culture represented in the performances was then increased as the gallery was sent off into break by mezzo-soprano Hong Zhang singing two folk songs from China’s vast reaches in Mongolia and Tibet.
Though it is often called the Chinese New Year, the Lunar New Year celebration is actually an essential holiday to many Asian cultures and communities beyond China, a far from culturally homogenous country itself, including those of South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
Beyond the stretch of food and drink stalls and families taking proud photographs of their young performers, stood a booth for the Asian and Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association, further enhancing the theme of diversity present that day.
But it was Congressman Paul Tonko, the U.S. Representative for New York’s 20th district, that drove home this theme.
“Our American Culture is a quilt. Everyone brings their tradition,” he remarked when he took the stage in the second half of the festivities, “Knitted together, we are a power quilt. The envy of the world.”
Rep. Tonko went on to describe the importance of immigrants to America’s strength and culture, and to acknowledged his commitment to supporting refugees.
His final comments expressed that in 2017, “we need that Rooster spirit,” addressing that the Rooster of the Zodiac signifies energy, intelligence and confidence.
Rep. Tonko is not the only politician to pay respect to the significance and importance of the Chinese New Year to many Asian-Americans this year. Earlier this year, Governor Cuomo issued a proclamation naming Jan. 28, 2017 to be Lunar New Year Day within New York State, stating “it is fitting for all New Yorkers to join in spirit with our Asian and Pacific Islander communities as they celebrate and welcome Lunar New Year 4715.”