There is a sense of pride when the city you live in partakes in cultural events of a high stature. This was the case on May 20, 2017, at Cal Luthern University in Thousand Oaks, CA. Pacific Pearl Music Association, Center for Asian Performing Arts, and Department of Languages and Cultures at Cal Lutheran presented an outstanding, free Chinese cultural event, complete with musicians, singers, and dancers encompassed in a professional production. The presentation was done by the Yang Shong Choir, Thousand Oaks Chinese Folk Ensemble, the Thousand Oaks Dancing Ensemble, and In-Harmony Chorus. Our founder and director of Fordney Foundation, Marilyn Fordney attended, along with her husband and co-director, Alex Havasi. They loved every minute of it!
This event is in its second year and even included a display of Chinese artifacts and guests received a hand-painted fan as a souvenir. Historically speaking, The Dragon Boat Festival has been held annually in China for over 2,000 years to commemorate the patriotic poet Qu Yuan. The story goes that Qu Yuan was the top advising counsel to the King of Chu. Other officials were jealous of Qu Yuan and accused him of treason. After reading the program of the Dragon Boat Music Festival production and the article in the Acorn, May 11, 2017, I was fascinated that one man could be the reason for an entire festival that occurs every year. And so, I was determined to find out more about Qu Yuan!
During Qu Yuan’s exile, he wrote many poems showing his love and passion for his country. Unfortunately, he drowned himself in a river in 278 B.C. when he found out that his country was conquered by the state of Qin. Qin was a major dynasty during the Zhou period of Ancient China. On hearing of Qu Yuan’s death, residents tried to save his body. Qu Yuan died on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. Among the customs practiced on this day are dragon boat racing. And as I continue to relate this historical tale, you will know the meaning of “dragon boat racing” and why it is the symbolic ritual of the Dragon Boat Festival.
The villagers tried hard to save poor Qu Yuan’s body in order to keep fish and evil spirits away from him. They beat drums and splashed the water with paddles. They even threw rice into the water as both a food offering to distract the fish away from Qu Yuan’s body but also to feedQu Yuan’s spirit itself. And so the legend continued, when one night, they say, Qu Yuan’s spirit did appear to tell the villagers to wrap their rice into three-cornered silk packages to ward off the dragon. Thus, the act of racing to search for Qu Yuan’s body in boats gradually became the cultural tradition of dragon boat racing. This race is held on the anniversary of Qu Yuan’s death every year. This occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the traditional Chinese calendar. It is known that Vietnam and Korea also celebrate variations of the Dragon Boat Festival too. Are you starting to see how this whole thing got started by this one patriotic and peaceful man who took his own life for his country!
I thought you might enjoy the dances performed at the Cal Luthern presentation. Thanks to the help of Alex Havasi, who took all of these beautiful, colorful pictures of these dancers, I can tell you a little about their meaning. These dances are charming and depict the daily lives of the village people of long ago. I’m still in awe that all of these dances are done to commemorate the gentle soul of Qu Yuan and the traditional Chinese holiday, Dragon Boat Festival. These dances help us see how the Chinese people derived pleasure from living a simple spiritual life, with a deep appreciation for the beauty that surrounds them.
Little Peacock – This dance illustrates several little peacocks playing by the river. Imagine them using their long beaks to smooth their feathers. The delicate beauty and the graceful movement of the peacock’s tail is for sure, one of the most natural, captivating images you could ever hope to see.
Flowing Sleeve – Simply and beautifully stated, the dancers flowing sleeves rise and fall, fly and swirl to the drum beat as a heart beat. Wonderful imagery!
The Lotus Pond Under Moonlight – Taking in the moonlight, dreaming, time goes by slowly beside the lotus pond. Surrounded by water, frogs singing and the wonderful scent of flowers in the air. These lovely dancers are like lilies, happily dancing and swirling along the water pond.
Way To The Paradise – In the western region of China is a beautiful land called Tibet. A mountain path travels upward through the snow and appears to connect the earth to heaven. Dancers dressed in sunset glow, singing and dancing joyfully reflecting paradise on earth.
How touching and ironic that a man so loyal to his country, who wrote prose, could manifest a tradition that has lasted thousands of years so provoked by his death. There is a true beauty in savoring and preserving culture for all time, I’m sure Qu Yuan would be proud! So next year be sure to attend this wonderfully entertaining program that is held in the Samuelson Chapel on the California Lutheran University campus.
For a special treat, please enjoy this beautiful Flowing Sleeve dance video taken by Alex Havasi and posted by Marilyn Fordney at the event. It gives you a glimpse into the gentle but precise movements that make the dance so elegant. Great job Alex Havasi and Marilyn Fordney!
Thought Of The Week:
We are not our bodies, our possessions, or our careers. Who we are is divine love and that is infinite – Dr. Wayne W. Dyer