‘Lunar New Year Festival: Rise’ shines the spotlight on community building

| Theater and Dance Editor

You may have heard the pop of fireworks on campus a couple weekends ago or witnessed their colorful display across Mudd Field. These were in celebration of the Lunar New Year—a joint effort by members of Lunar New Year Festival (LNYF) and Asian Multicultural Council. The Lunar New Year, which marked the start of the year of the rooster on Jan. 28, has been celebrated for centuries by people of eastern and southeastern Asian descent worldwide. LNYF makes it possible for Washington University students to take part in the celebration, too. This year, the cultural performance commemorating the holiday, “Lunar New Year Festival: Rise,” will take place in the Edison Theater on Friday, Feb. 10 and Saturday, Feb. 11.

Students perform in the 2016 Lunar New Year Festival last year. The 2017 Lunar New Year Festival: Rise will take place this Friday, Feb. 10 and Saturday, Feb. 11 in Edison Theater.Joachim Vaturi | Student Life

Students perform in the 2016 Lunar New Year Festival last year. The 2017 Lunar New Year Festival: Rise will take place this Friday, Feb. 10 and Saturday, Feb. 11 in Edison Theater.

The performance highlights about 200 students and consists of a skit, a fashion show and a variety of dance numbers: lion dance, water sleeves, Chinese yo-yo, hula, Korean fan, senior dance, saminori, juggling, tinikling, Chinese fan and fusion—along with a new piece this year called the Dai umbrella dance, representing the Dai minority group in China. Each year, students in all disciplines have the opportunity to audition for the show and after several months of rehearsals come together to provide the audience with a glimpse into the cultural traditions of East Asia. LNYF is one of the most well-attended shows in Edison Theater, along with the two other major cultural shows, Diwali in the fall and Carnaval in the late spring.

This year’s LNYF co-directors, seniors Jonathan Shieh and Jesse Kao, got involved with the Lunar New Year Festival as freshmen without many expectations of the group or the show. Now, four years later, both reflect upon their experience with LNYF as an incredibly meaningful part of their time at Wash. U.

“I was never into the whole Asian performance thing in high school,” Shieh said. “But my floormates encouraged me to audition as a freshman. I’d done a little bit of yo-yo in the past, so I auditioned for that team and got it.”

Shieh went on to choreograph the yo-yo routine for his sophomore and junior years and also became tech director for the show his junior year.

Similarly, Kao spoke of being reluctant to join at first but coming to love the production.

“I was dragged to LNYF auditions as a freshman, and I also had a bit of yo-yo experience, so I joined that team and tenickling,” she said. “Through that, I grew to love the community so much that I knew LNYF was something I wanted to do for the rest of my college career.”

Kao went on to join the LNYF executive board his sophomore year, as the social outreach chair, and he became the director of performance his junior year.

Now, as co-directors of LNYF, Shieh and Kao’s responsibilities have extended beyond the performance. They’ve worked on the philanthropy, fundraising, public relations and community outreach elements of the organization, in addition to providing mentorship to the students more closely involved with the logistics of the show itself.

“The way people perceive LNYF is just as a show,” Shieh said. “But the way I’d describe it is—if we were to have a list of goals—having a fantastic show is obviously one of them. But to be able to educate others about our philanthropy and to develop a strong community on campus for all the performers in LNYF are both super important, as well.”

The philanthropy supported by LNYF this year is Beyond Housing, a community building initiative in St. Louis to assist families in the Normandy, Mo. school district, not only through housing but also through aligning partners and resources to help with education, childcare, health and financial services. One major element of Beyond Housing’s work is named the 24:1 initiative, which refers to the 24 municipalities in the Normandy school district with what the organization calls “one vision for successful children, engaged families and strong community.”

In each year’s LNYF performance, the skit works to reflect an element of the chosen philanthropy. Shieh, who is also a performer in the skit, said, “Because this year’s philanthropy is so broad, the skit is reflective of that. It’s about community and our expectations of others.”

The skit is formatted so that each member of the ensemble plays a prominent role and has a particular problem he or she is working toward solving.

“To varying degrees, we work to resolve these issues. But it’s very much about how these peoples’ other friends don’t really know them as having these problems and how that influences their characters,” Shieh said.

In addition to the new philanthropy and skit, those who’ve attended the performance in the past can expect an amped-up fashion show segment this year, with some of the costumes designed originally by students—a first in LNYF history.

“Lunar New Year Festival: Rise” will be performed in Edison Theater on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 11 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets cost $10 and are available for purchase at edison.wustl.edu or at the Edison Theater Box Office.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of “tinikling” and clarify the yo-yo number.

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