Sunday, February 8, 2009
Rustic Talent Show
Today is the day before the Lantern Festival which traditionally marks the end of Spring Festival.
Early in the morning my colleagues and I headed to northwest Beijing to a village in the outskirts of Haidian District to see some folk performances held around the Lantern Festival.
They gathered in the parking lot of a driving school, some bused in from nearby areas and it was a big operation.
In front was a stage with a table and five judges, while everyone else stood on the ground either watching the proceedings or participating.
There were 13 groups in all, each having 20 to 80 performers, presenting traditional folk routines.
The first group was made up of women in their 50s and 60s performing the dragon dance with two long dragons. They were obviously tired by the end after holding poles to keep the long mystical serpents dancing and following a fiery ball.
There were some drumming demonstrations and two sets of lion dances. You have to feel for the guys who make the back half of each lion. They have to bend down all the time, holding onto the person at the front and follow whatever they do. Not only that, but they have to be able to lift up the front person too. Hope they get a back massage afterwards.
Another group featured a bamboo pole some 15 feet high and each man balanced it with their hands, fingers arms, heads, and chins. They also twisted it with one hand. After each person performed a few stunts, he'd push the pole up with his head and in that way pass it to the next guy. I can't imagine how much that pole weighed.
There were also two performances of stilt walking, and some of the people hopped on one stilt. Crazy. At the end, both made a kind of pyramid and put a little kid on top.
Martial arts was also featured, with a group doing wushu with bamboo sticks that looked pretty good for an amateur group. And some 80 women dressed in white Chinese suits did a choreographed dance with red fans.
Perhaps the liveliest performances were the folk dancing complete with humour.
Elderly men and women dressed up in bright clothes and makeup, some with interesting props like a play horse, a wedding palanquin, and fans. One elderly man was particularly funny with his bug eyes, dancing with his fans.
In the end the judges praised all the groups. There was no specific prize, but each group was given some 5,000RMB ($731.50) each for their efforts.
Who knew Chinese seniors were such talented and natural performers?
Unfortunately, these performances for the Lantern Festival are not as popular as before, with the younger generation not interested in carrying on the tradition.
One wonders how much longer it will be until these events disappear... or perhaps the Chinese government will step in and turn them into intangible art forms that will be preserved one way or another...