HARMONY: The Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company presents a traditional Dragon Dance at the Lincoln Center in New York City on February 24 while local students perform folk dances (SHEN ANQI)
New Yorkers celebrated the dawn of the Year of the Sheep in fine style, with parades, concerts, dancing and fireworks throughout the city--a party bigger and better than ever before. Crowning over the festivities was the Empire State Building, lit brightly in red and gold heralding "Splendid China."
As the New Year begins, the festivities portend a shift in the relationship between East and West. All things China swept over the city for the weeklong celebration, and the message was this year would be China's year of ascension, taking its place in the multicultural mix of the developed world. And New York City would be the welcoming stage for Chinese art and culture.
For the non-initiated, the Lunar New Year celebrations were a welcome break from the deep, cold grip that winter has placed on the city. Don Thomas, of Queens, said he looks forward to the February festivities, even if he doesn't understand the meanings behind the many lion dances and celebrations throughout the boroughs.
"[The celebration] seems like a bigger deal this year," Thomas said. "I heard it was the 'Year of the Sheep.' I don't know what that means but I like going to Chinatown for the parade and to see the dancing. I'm going to take my granddaughter with me."
Lighting up the Hudson
A massive fireworks display to celebrate the Lunar New Year electrified the city, drawing crowds from all over the metro area. The collaboration behind the display was fitting, with American and Chinese pyro technicians working side by side with Chinese-made explosives and American hardware. Heading up operations was Fireworks by Grucci, based in Bellport, New York--the company charged with designing and engineering the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The company sources most of its colorful fireworks from China and enjoys a close relationship with many high-profile Chinese exhibitions.
The New Year show featured 4,000 explosives launched from three barges near the Chinese Consulate in midtown Manhattan. The display is the first large-scale fireworks display to celebrate the Lunar New Year in U.S. history.
Steven Ching, of Brooklyn, said he braved the freezing temperatures to take his girlfriend, mother and sister to the show.
"It was fantastic," Ching said. "Just as good as the Fourth of July celebrations. It was spectacular and there were a lot of people gathered to watch it even though the weather was so cold. We really enjoyed it."
Ching, whose family is from southern China, said his girlfriend of Korean heritage didn't grow up with the same excitement over the Spring Festival that his family celebrated.
"I want to show her what Lunar New Year is all about," Ching said, "in the Chinese style."
The 20-minute show was created by Chinese artist Huang Jiancheng and the design team of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. There were five chapters to the performance, including "Great Jubilance," "Radiant With Joy" and "Spring Returns" under the overarching theme of "Harmony." Accompanying music was broadcast live on local radio station.
In warmer entertainment, the New York Philharmonic for its fourth year running celebrated with a gala concert featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma and master sheng player Wu Tong. The sheng is a mouth organ made of reeds used in traditional Chinese music.
The gala concert was presented in collaboration with CAMI Music and conducted by Long Yu, music director of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, and artistic director of the China Philharmonic Orchestra, the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra and the Beijing Music Festival. Ahead of the concert, the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company performed a traditional Dragon Dance on the steps of Lincoln Center's Josie Robertson Plaza and local students from the National Dance Institute performed folk dances.