A dance of fluttering fans greeted the audience last Wednesday evening as the Peking University Student Arts Troupe began a rousing two-and-a-half-hour show at the Schwartz Performing Arts Center.
Drawing upon traditional and modern influences, the 32-member troupe of Chinese undergraduates and graduates presented a rich repertoire of dance, song and music. The students, whose majors ranged from information management to history to journalism and communication, choreographed all of their own dances, many of which had strong ties to ones performed by China’s ethnic minorities.
“Flying Kites,” a dance illustrating this popular pastime at Peking University, was later followed by “Romance of the Shepherds,” a Mongolian folk dance, and “Back of Bulls as a Cradle,” a Tibetan dance.
Many of the performances showcased classical Chinese as well as western pieces. A trombone soloist performed “Shoutin’ Liza Trombone,” while a male quintet sang “In the Still of the Night” after delivering a popular Sichuan song.
Playing on traditional instruments such as the Chinese dulcimer, zither and lute, the performers delighted the audience with “Perfect Conjugal Bliss,” a traditional folk piece, and then followed with “Susanna.” Prof. Yufen Lee Mehta, Asian studies, especially enjoyed the dances. “I’m more familiar with the traditional Han Chinese dance,” she said. “This minority dance is very refreshing, and they do dance very well.”
Mehta also observed that many of the dances, such as “At the Bank of the Lancang River,” had a modern edge despite the traditional costumes. “In China it’s a constant ongoing evolution. People there have new ways, new styles … I think that’s the story we have to learn,” she said.
The idea for the event originated when President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 and a University delegation visited Peking and were treated to a performance by one of the troupe members. Upon learning that the troupe was planning a tour around the U.S., Lehman quickly extended an invitation for it to perform at Cornell. “I think the entire visit was an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the two universities. The performance was in many ways the centerpiece of the visit,” said David Wippman, vice provost for international relations.
“Cultural exchanges like this historically have served to bring people together all over the world in good and in difficult times,” said Tommy Bruce, vice president for communications and media relations. Wippman, who performed an overall supervisory role in the event, said that besides cultural connections, faculty members of both universities have also forged academic ties through collaborative research.
The dean of the law school will be visiting Peking and other Chinese universities in March, and other colleges on campus will also develop relationships with Peking over time, according to him. Bruce expressed admiration at the students’ “sophistication and talent that you normally see only with professionals.” He admitted, “as I was watching them singing and dancing, I kept thinking, which one was the math major, which one was the arts major.”
Peking University students, led by their president Xu Zhihong, also performed at Columbia, Yale, Stanford and University of Maryland as part of their 11 day U.S. tour, which ends today. Groups who helped in coordinating the event included President Lehman’s Office, The Office of the Vice Provost for International Relations, University Communications, the East Asia Program, Campus Life, Residential Community Centers and Event Services (RCCES), Cornell Catering, CU Police, Transportation and Mail Services, the staff at the Performing Arts Center, and the staff of the Holland International Living Center.
Archived article by Xiaowei Cathy Tang
Sun Staff Writer