SANFORD - Musicians and dancers from Shanxi University in the People's Republic of China drew an enthusiastic chorus of oohs and ahhs from a packed house during an hour-long performance on March 26 at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center.
The free performance was presented by the Confucius Classroom at Central Carolina Community College, an educational hub offering Chinese language and culture classes taught by Visiting Professor Yuehan Ma from China.
It featured Chinese music and dance native to the Shanxi province and other regions of Northern China. Shanxi University is located in Taiyuan, the provincial capital, about 300 miles southwest of Beijing.
Musician Chen Geng drew audible gasps as he performed "Birds Paying Homage to Phoenix" on the suona, a high-pitched horn used often in Chinese folk music. The number mixed melodic passages with bird sounds that many in the audience couldn't believe were actually coming from the horn.
Others took the stage for a total of 10 performances that ranged from contemplative vocal solos to large group dances that filled the entire stage with bright, flashing movement.
Many of the performers visited Sanford five years ago, when the troupe made its first journey to the United States. Professor Yu Guodong, director of Shanxi University's Foreign Affairs Office, said the troupe actually made this year's trip to open a new Confucius Institute at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. But based on the warm reception they received before, the art delegation worked to arrange a return engagement in Sanford.
"We were really impressed by the audience," said Professor Yu, reflecting on that initial visit. "We loved them so much because they were involved in the whole performance. You could feel they were with us."
When this year's event came to a close with "Thousand-Handed Mercy," a traditional dance creating the illusion of one goddess with many gracefully moving hands, Kristol Evans rushed down the center aisle following her 6-year-old son Kaden and 4-year-old daughter Kalani. The children wanted nothing more than to get a closer look at the dancers still dressed in shining gold.
Kristol, a Sanford resident and paralegal technology student at the college, said she brought her family to experience a new culture. And apparently it was a huge hit. Kaden wanted to talk about how much he liked Yang Yijie and Chen Bocheng, who received a rousing ovation for their acrobatic dance with drums. Then the same question was directed to Kalani, only she had slipped away to meet the performers, managing somehow to get herself embedded in the entire dance troupe with cameras flashing.
For another 20 minutes after the final curtain, that's how the event continued, with performers swarming in front of the stage, taking photos with each other and any locals who wanted to step into the mix. And there were scores of them who did, from young Kalani to retired seniors many times her age.
The entire scene was encouraging to Jon Matthews, provost of CCCC's Harnett County Campus and someone who has been instrumental in developing the Confucius Classroom. He says that performances like these have been a priority since 2009, when CCCC became the first community college in the nation to establish a Confucius Classroom.
"This is part of our mission," said Matthews. "We're proud to offer this opportunity for local citizens to learn more about traditional Chinese art and culture and to meet some of our friends living halfway around the globe."
Professor Yu agreed, saying that opportunities to generate goodwill among people and nations was something he and his troupe valued most. "The most important thing I want people to know is that we are keen on international cooperation and friendship," he said. "That's important today."
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Dancers from Shanxi University perform "Thousand-Handed Mercy" to conclude an appearance in Sanford that mixed Chinese dance with instrumental and vocal music.
Yang Yijie performs "Drums for Fun," an acrobatic duet with dance partner Chen Bocheng that was one of 10 performances drawing rave reviews from an appreciative audience in Sanford.
Soprano soloist Zhou Na from Shanxi University performs "Mayeel Variations" during an afternoon of Chinese music and dance at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center in Sanford.
Vocalist Lei Zeyu performs with other Shanxi University artists during the group's second visit to Sanford. Many in the Chinese art delegation were part of the troupe's initial appearance five years ago.
Hu Xuedong, left, and Yang Yijie perform a dance duet, "Red Sorghum," as part of a lively afternoon of dance and music presented by artists from Shanxi University in China.
Musician Chen Geng performs "Birds Paying Homage to Phoenix" on the suona. The composition blends melodic passages with striking bird sounds.
The Dance Troupe of the Art Delegation of Shanxi University opens its performance in Sanford with the folk dance, "Blooming Flowers of Chinese Fans."
Tenor soloist Li Yanfeng performs "Shanxi Pastoral Song," the first vocal number in an hour-long performance by Shanxi University artists that dazzled a packed house at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center.