Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chinese Arts found in Texas

Upon arriving at Houston’s Chinese performing arts festival on Saturday September 26th, I had little preconceptions of what to expect. Being my first time in Texas, I was unsure what the projected demographic would be, and also, the authenticity of the performance. The performance began at noon in heat and humidity that would make any outdoor event uncomfortable to say the least. But braving the harsh conditions we arrived at Miller Park, an outdoor theatre situated on the edge of an expansive park in downtown Houston. The theatre was configured in a traditional “sea shell” fashion, where the audience radiated around the stage underneath a fabric canopy. Additional seating lay behind the boundaries of the theatre on a grassy hill where families were more inclined to sit and allow their children to run around and play. Interactions between audience members seemed restless and many people were talking amongst one another, encouraging a much more informal environment than if the event had been cast indoors. The restlessness of the crowd was exacerbated by the overwhelming presence of small children. It had seemed that the predominantly Asian audience had brought their families to this event as if to educate their children on the culture from which they originated. Although so many children were present, the majority of the families sat in the rear or on the field altogether to avoid having their children cause a distraction from the performance. Successful in keeping the children from visually distracting the performance, the acoustics they provided did not help the poor acoustics of the theatre itself. Being outside, sound was lost easily and the theatre built from softer materials than it probably should have been allowed for small reverberation times. This caused the opera and other less amplified performances extremely hard to focus on as there were literally outside distractions. I believe that the poor acoustics encouraged more talking and thus, less of the audience gave their full and undivided attention to a single performance and even less so to the entire event. Another hindrance to maintaining the audience’s full attention may have been the language barrier. All performances were conducted in Chinese and it was interesting to note that if the performance was more visually based, the audience paid stronger attention to what was occurring on stage. The performances that were acoustically performed tended to be translations of traditional opera songs, songs easily recognized to have been sung by the three tenors. Chinese Pop songs were also integrated into the mix to attract the attention of the younger crowd. Both types though polar opposites were beautifully sung but were unfortunately the performances that were most disrespected. In contrast, the performances that conducted the most attention were Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Both presentations were accompanied by more traditional Chinese music than what was sang in other performances, and provided a rhythmic meter for the performers to display their act.

The Chinese performing arts festival was a beautiful event culturally and “atmospherically”. Set outdoors in a beautiful park in Houston’s dense urban jungle, the event was appreciated by both passerby’s and dedicated audience members. Though it did not captivate the audience’s full attention, the event provided a moment of brevity for both families and onlookers to escape from the harsh sun.

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