On Thursday, January 19, Lower Schoolers and Middle Schoolers involved in the Chinese program took part in the fourth annual Chinese New Year celebration, honoring the holiday—officially January 28—through various dances, songs, rhymes, and instrumental pieces performed on the Oates Theater stage. The Chinese language program at Collegiate is ten years old this year, and it has grown radically throughout the years. It started with around ten third graders and one teacher in 2007 and now includes students grades K-12 and four faculty. The large size of the program was made evident by the insufficient seating at the event, forcing latecomers to stand in the back and crane their necks for a view of the performance.
The performance was prefaced by a few quick words from Head of School Steve Hickman regarding the program’s history and a few parking issues, before it opened with a rendition of the “Happy New Year Song” by third grade Chinese students, accompanied by a group of seniors carrying a Chinese dragon around the stage. The energetic third graders bobbed up and down to the catchy words “恭喜，恭喜，恭喜你“ (gong xi, gong xi, gong xi ni), meaning “Good wishes to you,” as the seniors used the cloth dragon and a decorated ball to replicate the traditional Chinese dragon dance. Following the strong opening performance, Director of Responsible Citizenship and Strategic Planning Clare Sisisky made a few more in-depth comments about the Chinese program, briefly pausing the performance to recognize the major milestones made in the program in the past ten years.
To open the rest of the performance, Chinese language students Gillian Laming (‘17) and John Bullock (‘17) welcomed the audience and introduced the next act: first graders singing a classic Chinese hide-and-seek song: “Where are my Friends?” In first grade, the entire grade is required to take Chinese, thus a large group of 120 adorable first graders shuffled on to the stage, filling the space entirely, and began to sing and dance in unison. The lyrics and choreography were fitting for the six and seven-year-olds, and the group of 120 sang and stomped to the beat of the music with the vivacity only first graders can muster.
Following the prolonged exit of the young singers (the entire first grade takes a while to properly exit the stage), out skipped a lively crew of second graders, swinging long ribbons as they bounced into two even lines across the stage. The performers dazzled the audience with their execution of “Chinese Hokey Pokey,” waving their ribbons and lifting their feet as they sang the words to the classic children’s song.
Next, the fourth graders executed their Chinese skills through Kuai ban: Chinese raps and rhymes used to tell stories. Accompanied by Director of Performing Arts Mike Boyd and Lower School music teacher Christine Hoffman on drums, the performers spoke sharply, quickly, and in perfect sync, providing a sharp contrast to the adorable singing and dancing of the younger grades. The fourth graders proved to be a force to be reckoned with, and the performance was mesmerizing. This impressive act was followed with a moving performance by a flutist from the Beijing New Oriental Foreign Language School, a visitor to Collegiate last week as a part of the International Emerging Leaders Asia program. Then there were two slower but stirring productions: a calming song and dance by fifth and sixth grade girls about the Himalaya Mountains, and an emotional serenade by the eighth grade Chinese language students.
The performance concluded with a Tai chi display by the fifth and sixth grade boys, and the seventh grade boys and girls. The students filtered through the audience into the rows before beginning the performance of the slow, but powerful ancient art, captivating the audience with their focus and the purposeful choreography. The movement reflected the morning exercises so popular throughout China. The entire show demonstrated the multidimensional aspects of Chinese culture and was electrifying to watch.
Following the performance, the audience and the students moved into the Academic Commons to enjoy Chinese cuisine in the café and New Year’s crafts in the library. The food included an array of dumplings, egg rolls, vegetable rolls, and dipping sauces, and was so delicious the line nearly extended out the door. The crafts, intended mostly for the younger students or younger siblings, included lantern, fan, and rooster decorating. Both the lantern and the fan are significant New Year’s ornaments, and the rooster is incredibly meaningful for this New Year, as the Chinese zodiac animal of 2017 is the rooster. Children filled each seat of the tables, using various media to decorate their paper New Years designs, while Upper School Chinese language students helped them out. Many of the students at the performance were proud siblings or friends of the performers, their enjoyment clear by the smiles on their faces as they scrambled to find seats at the art tables.
Overall, the Chinese New Year celebration was a raging success, and the Collegiate community will continue to celebrate the Chinese culture in years to come. Thank you to Chinese language teachers Xin-yi Fergusson, Yu Xiao, Mei Dong, and Zhangyi Shi for creating such an incredible Chinese program and awe-inspiring performance.
All photos courtesy of Collegiate School.