Gung Hay Fat Choy!
Once again, Lunar New Year will be celebrated in Brooklyn with style. For the third consecutive year, the Walt Whitman Theater at Brooklyn College will play host to the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company’s Lunar New Year Celebration, tailored to mark the Year of the Monkey.
“It’s a great festival with many different acts. Our New Year shows have been outstanding,” said Andy Chiang, one of the show’s producers. “Everything is very colorful and vibrant for families to come and see.”
Nai-Ni Chen promises to give attendees a cultural experience before they even take their seats. “Before you walk into the theater, the hall will have food and a lot of the Chinese New Year color, which is red,” Chiang said, explaining that red corresponds with fire and symbolizes good fortune and joy.
Also slated to make an appearance is one of the New York area’s best paper cutting artists. “It’s a special style of cutting you can do. He can cut any image that comes to mind,” he said.
Different items will be on sale, such as crafts and decorations that celebrate the New Year. “We do this so people can bring something home and tell their family about their experience,” he said.
Once the lights dim, the audience will be able to watch top-notch renditions of Chinese New Year traditions. “We have an exciting program that begins, as always, with the tradition of the lion dance, which is said to give good luck for the whole year,” he said. “We have old and contemporary Chinese dances, along with great puppetry.”
Also included during the performance will be a Mongolian Chopstick Dance, the Coinstick Dance from Hubei, and a solo piece entitled Joy, performed by guest artist Jia Liu, a former teacher at the Beijing Dance Academy.
However, the highlight performance will reference this year’s animal according to the Chinese Zodiac.
“Since it’s the Year of the Monkey, the show will feature the Monkey King, the main character in the most well-known story in China, Journey to the West, which is about the legendary king. He learned magic and martial arts, and became very powerful,” he explained.
According to Chiang, getting the right actor was not an easy feat. “The hardest part is finding people that can portray the Monkey King. People spend their whole lives studying the character and try to become the embodiment of it,” he said. “He has to be a skilled acrobat. We have someone from Beijing who is one of the top monkey kings in China coming in and we’re very pleased.”
That person is Feng Gu, a principal member of the Beijing Kunqu Theater. Gu started his study of Chinese Opera at 11 years old, specializing in the role of the Monkey King. In 2006 he was one of the five top medalists in the worldwide Monkey King competition.
“This will be our grand finale,” Chiang said. “Traditionally, the favorite part has been opening lion dance. But this year, it will definitely be the Monkey King because of the incredible acrobats. You don’t see a world class monkey king come to the states very often. “
Last year’s show was a success with over 1,000 people in attendance and Chiang hopes to top that this year and make the performance even bigger and more accessible. “It’s a very diverse crowd. It’s not just for a Chinese audience. It’s a creative and bright performance for the whole family to enjoy,” he said. “The last three years, we’ve had increasing crowds. We trust the program we put together. We make sure it’s not just another acrobatic show.”
Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company’s Lunar New Year Celebration will take place on Sunday, January 31 at 3 p.m. at the Walt Whitman Theater, 2900 Campus Road. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $12.50 for children under 12. For more information, visit www.brooklyncenter.org.