World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival
Peony dancer




Peony Performing Arts

Shuang Sabrina Hou
First Appearance in SF EDF:

The Hou sisters, vocalist, Shuang Sabrina, and choreographer, Xiaomu, are fourth generation descendants of a performing arts family from Beijing who excelled in the Kunqu Opera. Having already frequently performed in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was not until 2001, when UNESCO declared the Kunqu Opera as one of 19 masterpieces of "Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity," that the Hou sisters realized that they were torchbearers of a vital tradition. Feeling an urgency to carry forth the artistry of their deep-rooted family legacy, they founded Peony Performing Arts School in 2003.



groupTITLE OF PIECE: The Qing Palace Dance
Xiaomu Hou
Sabrina Hou, Xiaomu Hou
Beatrice Chan, Christine Chang, Meilan Chen, Peih Chiang, Joyce Chu, Sandy Chun, Tina Ha, Sabrina Hou, Winnie Kowk, Crystal Lee, Jasmine Lee, Wendy Lee, Janice Ng, Cecilia Tom, Angela Uyeda, Sharlene Wang, Betsy Yee, Lily Zhang
South Bay Chinese Orchestra: Paul Chu, Jennifer Huang, Yean-Yow Huang, Danette Lee, Deidre Lee, Wen Ling, Michael Su, Chia-Lin Tsou, Karen Tsou, Rick Walker, RueYue Wu, Nan Xia, Meng-Rou Yang, Ken Yao
: Sabrina Hou
Bao Shan Wang

Manchus were originally nomads from northeast China whose tribal ancestors journeyed there from the ancient state of Sushen bordering the Japan Sea. Despite the Great Wall, which was built over a 1500 year period to keep "barbarians" out, the Manchus ultimately conquered China and established their own dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, lasting from 1644-1911 AD This was the second period in China's history where it was ruled by "foreigners."

The Manchu used a highly structured form of military organization by arranging their troops under banners, and thus they became referred to as the "banner people." Similarly, the Manchu women's dress came to be called the qipao, or "banner dress," because it was a simple garment made from two pieces of cloth, a style still pervasive in China today. Manchu women wore a distinctive head piece, and as they were not permitted to bind their feet, they wore wooden platform shoes.

Tzu Hsi, whose name means "kindly and virtuous," was one of the most formidable women in modern China. Famed for her beauty and charm, she was pulled out of a middle class family to become a concubine in the court of Hsien-Feng. Being the only to bear him a son, she rose to the rank of Empress Dowager, a title given to the few women who had to rule the country until their underage emperor sons were old enough to reign. Tzu Hsi's son, Tongzhi, became the Emperor in 1861 at the age of five.

The piece selected by Peony Performing Arts is a recreation of a style of dance that was done during the late Qing Dynasty. Carrying on an earlier tradition, concubines would dance in the ceremonial halls of the Imperial Court for the Emperor and Empress Dowagers. Using delicate gestures and stylized walks, elegantly dressed women parade around the Court making neatly arranged formations reminiscent of the Manchu's highly structured military organization.


Peony groupTITLE OF PIECE: Rhythm
Xiaomu Hou
Xiaomu Hou, Crystal Lee, and Sharleen Wang
Joyce Chu, Sandy Chun, Tina Ha, Winnie Kwok, Wendy Lee, Mimi Shum, and Lilly Zhang
Shuang Sabrina Hou (Kunqu Vocal), Winnie Wong (Gu-zheng), and Janice Ng (Percussion)

In ancient China woman had limited access to the world outside their homes. In particular they were forbidden to meet men until marriage. So severe were the conditions of the women of these times, that epic dramas were created about them. One of the most famous plays of the Ming Dynasty is Tang Xianzu's Peony Pavilion created near the turn of the 16th century. It portrays the longing of a love struck young maiden who is resigned to her chambers and even forbidden to go out in the family garden. Her beauty is wasted.

This heartrending condition provides the backdrop to the narrative choreography offered by Peony Performing Arts. Their presentation incorporates elements of the Kunqu Opera and Chinese classical dance. It depicts the imaginative ways that women found to amuse themselves and to explore their womanly charms while being confined to their homes. One way was by practicing different approaches to play with a fan to reflect their changing moods.

A mesmerizing musical introduction opens the performance, which includes a recitation and song in the 600-year old Kunqu Opera tradition, and the playing of the gu-zheng, an elaborate zither-like instrument. The ups and downs of the melody played on the gu-zheng reflect the shifting moods of the young girls.

Back to top