Stage & Dance

Big celebration at Opera House ushers in Chinese New Year

For most Americans, the glitter of New Year's has come and gone, and well-intended resolutions have fallen by the wayside.

This Saturday, however, we can attempt a do-over, Chinese style.

The Kentucky Chinese American Association is hosting a large-scale Chinese New Year celebration at the Lexington Opera House, featuring food, crafts, music, vendors, and traditional Chinese dance, comedy and dramatic performances.

Ringing in the Year of the Rabbit, the event is the largest and most well-attended event for Lexington's growing Chinese-American community, which, according to KCAA president Changzheng Wang, comprises a population of about 3,000.

"Many of us are first-generation immigrants," Wang says. "Our children are born and raised here. The event helps the old generation to keep at least some of the traditions and trains the young generation in the traditions so they may share with other people in the future."

KCAA hosted New Year events for years, but it didn't launch a large-scale celebration until 2006, with about 200 revelers celebrating at the library. Attendance skyrocketed in subsequent years, and the event was moved to the Lexington Opera House, where last year's sold-out soiree left 400 people on a waiting list to attend.

Wang expects more than 1,000 guests will join this year's celebration, easily Lexington's largest annual gathering of Chinese-Americans.

The celebration starts in the afternoon with family-friendly activities that include Shapo puppet demonstrations, traditional red couplet calligraphy, traditional paper-cutting artistry, music and plenty of food.

Later that evening, Mayor Jim Gray will co-host a two-hour evening of performances with acclaimed Chinese dancer Cheryl Pan.

The event celebrates Chinese tradition and culture, but it is not exclusively targeted toward Chinese-Americans; it's open to the entire community.

"The event is also an opportunity for Chinese-Americans to share some of their traditions and culture with people of other cultural backgrounds," Wang says. That sentiment is shared by Pan, who is KCAA's artistic director.

She is devising the evening's artistic programming, leading the charge in recruiting performance groups and individual performers to participate via Chinese dance, music, martial arts and comedy, among other traditional forms of entertainment.

"Participants include both Chinese-American families, families with children adopted from China and people from other cultural backgrounds," Pan says of the inclusive nature of the event.

One aspect of Chinese culture that Wang and Pan hope to expose to other cultures is the Chinese sense of humor.

"We have several acts that will generate a lot of laughter," Pan says. "For example, the Boat Trackers' Love Song will feature some very unique costumes that allow the same dancers to play both female and male roles onstage, creating some very funny situations,"

"We also feature comic monologue, a very popular art form in China," Pan says.

"Be prepared for a lot of laughter if you are coming," Wang says.