LNYF emerges into new year, celebrating what is yet to come
This past weekend, the Lunar New Year Festival (LNYF) rang in the Year of the Rat in style in Edison Theatre. Though the pre-show music, performed by Washington University student musicians, was calming and acoustic, from the first act the stage was filled with energy and emotion.
The Lion Dance took the stage first with an impressive performance telling a clear—though wordless―story. Three lions, all with white or gold color schemes, were challenged and defeated by a red lion, but after regrouping, they again fought the red lion and were victorious. Before the lights faded, all four lions danced together joyfully. The dancers brought out the lions’ emotions and ended the story with triumph—a beautiful and fitting way to begin the night’s festivities.
The next performance, Hula, was more relaxing, as the twenty performers smiled wide and danced to traditional Hawaiian music. Though the performance was indoors, their dance brought a bit of sunshine to the otherwise dark theater.
The Korean Fan performance, the next act, was perfectly timed. It was placed immediately after the opening scene of LNYF’s skit, in which two recent college graduates, one class of 2019 and one class of 1988, struggle to find their place in the world. The Korean Fan played on the same themes. For most of the performance, one dancer was separated from two large groups of dancers. Near the end, however, they all danced together in complex arrangements. Their flowing white and pink dresses and fans accentuated their final arrangement: a blooming flower.
This theme of finding belonging—seen so far in the Lion Dance and in the Korean Fan—was the major theme that tied LNYF together. The skit was threaded through the festival, with a scene or two after every performance. It told the stories of Sarah, an aspiring writer and Wash. U. grad, and her mother Mengxing, a recently graduated engineer in 1988 Beijing. Both aspire to move to New York City and take advantage of all the opportunities that the city provides, but find it to be harder than expected. In nearly every scene, Mengxing’s story is told immediately after Sarah’s, and the two mirror each other in subject matter, dialogue and staging.
Mengxing struggles with the move from China to New York as employers refuse to see her talent, and her lack of proficiency in English leads to difficulty finding work. Sarah struggles to find a publisher for her novel, as publishers claim Asian-American characters aren’t relatable. Both eventually find a way to succeed, as Mengxing moves to St. Louis and starts a family and Sarah becomes a famous author for telling her mother’s story. After all, she says to the audience in the skit’s final scene, though not everyone has experienced their specific story, that doesn’t mean it isn’t relatable—everyone has felt lost, but they are never alone.
As this story progressed, other acts wowed the audience. The Korean percussion genre of Samulnori had an intense performance. The house lights only briefly turned on during the beginning of their set. Their music was sharp but rhythmic, the drums and gong echoing long after the last note. The Standing Drums performance was just as intense, though it started out more quietly. By the end, the beat of the drums reverberated around the room.
Following this musical set were more contemporary acts. The Chinese Yoyo and Juggling performances felt more modern, as both utilized glow-in-the-dark props against an all-black stage; the act itself was set to music from the past decade. Yoyo was incredibly synchronized, performing a stunning variety of tricks. One involved a yoyo with a long orange tail that when spun looked like a dragon. Juggling too had tricks up its sleeve. At any given time, up to eight performers graced the stage at once juggling with pins, balls (including ones that glowed in the dark) and neon green rings.
The more traditional performances of the night were Chinese Fan and Tinikling. The Chinese Fan dancers wore white, and their fans flowed through the air effortlessly. Though the tempo grew faster as the dance drew to its end, the performers kept the same graceful ease they started with. Tinikling, a traditional Filipino folk dance involving bamboo rods, appeared much more complex. The red and blue costumes were cut more simply, and the dancers alternated between a fast-paced step atop long rods of bamboo and kneeling to keep the beat by tapping, beating and sliding those same rods. For their finale, two lions from the Lion Dance joined the Tinikling performers and danced to the bamboo beat in a beautifully executed finale.
The Martial Arts set was beautifully choreographed and still felt dangerous. Their kicks and takedowns left no doubt that these performers were incredibly skilled, and the moment when they brought out obviously fake swords was nonetheless awe-inspiring.
Though not the last dance, the Senior Dance seems a fitting end for LNYF 2020. The dance was far from the most technically challenging of the night, and truthfully, one of the least synchronous. But it was a full stage of seniors who loved LNYF having so much fun, dabbing, flossing and dancing to songs like “Old Town Road” and “thank u, next.” Senior Dance, like the rest of LNYF, was a celebration of making it this far and confidence for what’s next—emerging into the next part of their lives.