It was Chinese New Year 2017, at the world class Segerstrom Theatre of the Arts on the evening of Saturday January 28. The infamous Pacific Symphony and exuberant conductor Carl St. Clair led the many acts with grace and perfection. There were Chinese dancers, the youngest looking barely old enough to walk, let alone move with such grace. Multi-colored costumes, ribbon, fans and, of course, dragons were in evidence. The Chinese never forget their homeland but thankfully brought their native land to us at least for this evening. During this lunar New Year, the stars shone brightly.
With so many in the audience wearing silk embroidered robes and jackets to fit the evening’s theme, the mood was set on and off the stage. The evening was narrated by the renowned Tianjin Television host, Tan Ye, and American-Chinese actor/writer, David A. Williams, who helped close the distances between Asia and America.
Jessica Zhu and Gloria Xiong, two adorable girls dressed in pink and white, not only looked like little angels but sounded like them too. Their immense talent did not go unnoticed even when surrounded by full orchestra and awestruck audience. They sang words of farewell to memories of the past, and their ancestors were surely smiling.
“Deep into the Night” featured George Gao playing the melodic ancient Chinese instruments, the erhu and jingu, accompanied by performers from the Yaya Dance Academy. Their bright pink costumes and jeweled headdresses added to the essence. Anytime the Yaya Dancers graced the stage, whether donning scarves, ribbons, swords or moving to “Kung Fu Panda 2” was uplifting. Choreographer Yaya Zhang is a true visionary who has imbedded her talents into her troupe with mastery and elegance.
The Butterfly Lovers Concerto, showcased the UCI Dance Troupe with spellbinding musical tracks. The symphony may have played a different genre than usual, but it did not seem to faze the spirited maestro, Carl St Clair. The dancers moved through each act, making the “Metamorphosis” theme complete. They graced the stage again for “Claire de Lune” and would have made Claude Debussy proud.
Tenor Orson Van Gay II may not have had much practice learning Mandarin, but his rendition of “I love you China,” from the waves of the South Sea to the snow topped mountains in the north, convinced even the most fluent speakers. His opera training and acting ability moved the entire audience. Orson is a superb talent, and there is no doubt this may have been his first performance on this grand Orange County stage but certainly not his last.
Every child is a blessing, but who knew all those years ago that one silent little boy would make such an impact on so many. He was born in a foreign land to a large immigrant family who did not know how to teach their child the ways of life. Somehow, he discovered how he could best communicate. Suddenly, what he could not hear, Amnon Damti could express through the medium of dance. When he met his bashert, Jill, his partner in life, their fate was sealed.
The result was “Two Worlds,” one hearing, one deaf; one female, one male; one born in the United States to secular Jewish parents and the other to Orthodox Israeli Yemenite ones. They move as one; they flow like energy sending a current through the hearts and bodies of those who watch them. Their performance brought a taste of Israeli talent to a mostly Asian audience. They epitomize the message of the evening where our worlds become one when we bring music and dance to the masses.
The Pacific Chorale was joined by the American Feel Young Chorus facing the audience from the upper tier above the orchestra. “Jasmine Flower,” a popular Chinese pop song, speaks of the fragrant flower that blooms. Overhead, a large screen displayed the translated words of each selection making the powerful message even more clear.
When the soloists returned to the stage, no one seemed to want the fabulous evening to end. Talented soprano Ariana Strahl, mezzo-soprano Christina Pezzarossi, bass-baritone Enrico Lagasca and Tenor Orson Van Gay II helped bridge the worlds between the many music genres. They were accompanied by the choirs and orchestra for the Finale for an uplifting serenade from Symphony No. 9 in D Minor by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Carl St. Clair said how “there is a new tradition in Orange County,” that this is only the first of hopefully many more Chinese New Year’s celebrations at this venue. Claire de Lune (fr. moon) was certainly apropos for a Moon Festival, but it may be possible that the conductor also favors a piece so close to his own surname. “All men live as brothers wherever your gentle wings abide,” “… beyond the starry canopy a loving father dwells.” It is under the lunar sky, which is also the calendar of our Jewish heritage. May G-d protect us and may we live together with peace and harmony.
This enchanting evening was made possible through the generosity of Charles and Ling Zhing and the Jade Society. By bringing so many flowers to life, they have ensured that this Lunar Year will be filled with light and splendor. There is no doubt that during the year of the rooster, many will awaken each morning with glorious memories and smiles. Charlie’s investment company is called Zion Enterprises, and there is no doubt his partnership with Jill and Amnon Damti, Seth Siegel and the entire Jewish community is only just beginning.