World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Chinese Performing Arts of America

First Appearance in SF EDF: 2000

Founded in 1991, Chinese Performing Arts of America’s mission is to introduce Chinese culture as an integral part of American society, and to promote cultural diversity through collaboration and international cultural events. CPAA’s headquarters is a 14,000 square foot facility, an incubator of over 40 teachers of many different dance styles who teach their arts to 2,000 art enthusiasts every week.


GENRE: Classical
TITLE: Blue Vase Spirit
DANCERS: Christina Cheng, Allie Dong, Felisha Fan, Elaine Huang, Virginia Jian, Agnes Ko, Jennifer Pan, Tiffany Wang, Xin Wang, Kailyn Xu, Michelle Xu, Yang Yang

Photo by Mark Muntean

Blue Vase Spirit illustrates a fantasy based in local history, an elegant performance of Chinese classical dance. The setting is the dock of San Francisco’s Pacific Mail Steamship Company, once located in what is now the city’s South Beach neighborhood. A cargo of blue and white porcelain vases arrives at the docks, and Chinese dockhands are reminded of their homeland. Reading the workers’ sorrow, the vases appear as dream spirits, giving comfort and blessing to the poor men far from home. The costumes by Beijing Dance Academy show a blue floral design on white, typical of a Chinese porcelain vase.

Artistic Director Ann Woo (narrative and music arrangement) and Yang Yang (principal dancer and choreographer) created this piece to remind us that America is a nation of immigrants—hopeful, hardworking people who continue to share stories of sweat and tears. Their inspiration was a contemporary Chinese song, Away From Home. Its sorrowful lyrics tell us:

The spring shower has awakened the young
leaves. The fallen leaves are flowing in the
brook. I am thinking of my loved ones far,
far away.

Ann writes, “This poignant story from San Francisco history has surely been reenacted many times.”

In 1867, Pacific Mail Steamship launched the first regular trans-Pacific steamship service linking the US with Asia, bringing West Coast furs to Yokohama, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, and returning with Chinese porcelains, lacquers, teas, and silks. Pacific Mail also transported Chinese immigrants to California—laborers who finished the transcontinental railroad and contractors for San Francisco’s salmon canning industry—communities that vastly enriched California’s economy and culture. In the 1800s, ordinances restricted housing and employment for anyone born in China. From 1882 to 1943, the Chinese Exclusion Act sadly prevented many immigrants from reuniting with families they’d left behind.

Han Chinese Classical Dance is an ancient, demanding, refined, and expressive form, rooted in five millennia of imperial culture and folk tradition. In 1919, dedicated artists systematically documented Chinese dance and introduced its formal teaching, merging elements of refined dance, folk opera, and European ballet with flips, spins, and tumbling from Chinese martial arts. One unique element is the ladies’ rapid heel-to-toe mini-step; they glide across the stage as if floating. The form also gives particular attention to “bearing,” a grace emerging from inner feeling, connection to breath, and state of mind. In Chinese classical dance, movements are led by the spirit, culture imparted by the Divine.


GENRE: Folkloric and Martial Arts
The Court Dance of the Tang Dynasty
Yang Yang
Li Yong Zhang
Christina Cheng, Audrey Cheung, Jiwen Dong, Virginia Jian, Agnes Ko, Jennifer Pan, Tammy Qiu, Pearl Wang, Jingqian Xu, Yang Yang, Wings Yeung
Shengwei Cheng, Ding Ding, Rong Jun, Guo Ming Sun, Li Yong Zhang

Chinese Performing Arts of America presents The Court Dance of the Tang Dynasty, the strong and elegant prelude to its full-length production, The Chinese Emperor and the Nightingale. Sixteen dancers loop and twirl silk scarves and sleeves—weaving together Tang history, a European fairy tale, Chinese classical dance, and the martial art of wushu.

The piece is set in the court of Tang Dynasty Emperor Tang Xuanzong, (ruler 712 to 756 C.E.), a king with a passion for music, poetry, and dance. Every night the Emperor’s Pear Garden dancers performed for his entertainment. In this piece, the dancers transport the real Emperor into another story: a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. This emperor pines for a wild nightingale he banished in favor of a mechanical bird. When the real nightingale returns to sing outside the window, the king’s health is restored.

The choreography includes two well-loved Chinese classical dances—the silk ribbon dance and the long sleeve dance—styles developed and performed in the Tang court. Tang aristocracy wore loose silk sleeves and flowing scarves as a sign they were above manual work. In the dances, the length of sleeves and scarves are exaggerated, demonstrating the elegant weightlessness of the finest Chinese silk.

This performance also incorporates Chinese wushu, a martial art form with elements traced back to China’s Stone Age people. No longer useful in hunting or warfare, wushu is now a form of extravagant display, familiar from Kung Fu films: and Chinese Performing Arts of America is known for its skillful merging of wushu with dance.

Ann Woo—creative director, playwright, and music editor—created this drama to depict the beauty of the Tang court and the strength of China’s Tang dynasty (618–690 and 705–907 C.E.). The Tang was a vast empire. Its capital city Chang’an, (now Xi’an) was the largest city in the world and Tang Emperors ruled immense territories, 50 to 80 million people, with armies controlling Asian nomadic powers, the Silk Road, and invading neighboring regions and sharing their great culture with neighboring Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. The Tang was China’s Golden Age of cosmopolitan culture, marking the invention of woodblock printing, clockworks, machines to delight, and many developments in medicines, engineering, poetry, mapmaking, and alchemy.


GENRE: Classical
TITLE: The Court Dance of Tang Dynasty
Yang Yang
Christina Cheng, Allie Dong, Virginia Jian, Agnes Ko, Sheila Pan, Tammy Qiu, Jia Thompson, Michelle Xu, Yang Yang, Yun Zhang
MUSICIANS: Chiffon Fu Guzheng Ensemble


The Court Dance of Tang Dynasty evokes the splendor and refinement of one of China’s golden ages of culture—in a modern day staging of Han (Chinese majority) classical dance. The piece features an elegant ancient technique called “water sleeve,” and costumes of extraordinarily light-weight silk, and extraordinarily long sleeves. The dancers delicately manipulate and flick their sleeves to create expressive effects and unison patterns. It is said this dance evokes the power of heaven as it symbolizes nature and its elements—the dashing rain, thundering wind, and tranquility after a storm.

In the Tang Dynasty, 618-907, trade flourished along the Silk Road, bringing progress and prosperity to China. This water sleeve dance is described in old writings as an example of the wondrous entertainments provided by wealthy families and in the royal court, where the Emperor was honored like a god. It is also known from the Beijing Opera. Traditionally, more elaborately coiffed dancers moved in a sedate and formal manner. Choreographer Yang Yang—who studied water sleeve technique under master Pei Ying Wang and worked with Dance Drama and Opera House of China in Beijing—takes a modern approach. Her dancers wear simple hairstyles so they can jump and turn, and their contemporary athleticism and control appears as effortless, dignified grace.

The costumes are traditional with a modern touch. They are made in China, of fine Chinese silk, an artform perfected by the Chinese at least 3,000 years ago. The musicians surround the dancers, playing Chinese guzheng, a zither-like instrument with 18-23 strings and a movable bridge. Guzheng is played by plucking strings with the right hand, and lightly placing the left hand on a string to sound harmonics. This Tang Dynasty instrument is the ancestor of the Japanese koto, among other instruments.

The Court Dance of Tang Dynasty
is a World Premiere for the company, choreographed by Ms. Yang Yang, CPAA’s principal dancer, a graduate of Beijing Dance Academy.


TITLE: Celestial Dragon
MARTIAL ARTISTS: Yan Guo Chen, Sheng Wei Cheng, Guo Qiang Li, Dong Lu, Jin Yong Ren, Bing Sing Xu, Bing Yang, Jin Zhou

In honor of the Chinese Year of the Dragon, Chinese Performing Arts of America (CPAA) presents Celestial Dragon, a rhythmic, fast-paced tribute to the Chinese Dragon King. As the piece opens, small fish-like creatures swim peacefully, but the mood changes dramatically when the Dragon King surges up from the ocean towards the heavens, causing rain to fall, nurturing all life on earth.

The Dragon Dance is meant to be both frightening and benevolent – dragons are fierce but they also bring good luck. In Chinese literature, the Dragon King is the supreme ruler of all waters, ruling an undersea royal court of crab generals and countless armies of shrimp. He manipulates the weather, bringing rainfall, and—evoking the fluidity of water—can shape shift into human form. The Dragon King possibly originated from Hindu and Buddhist religions, and the Dragon Dance was performed in Han Dynasty China as villagers danced to bring rain and prevent sickness, with up to 50 performers moving the dragon puppet in undulating, watery patterns.

Creative director and choreographer Ann Woo was inspired to create Celestial Dragon by the approaching turn of this millennium: the year 2000 was also the Chinese Year of the Dragon. Woo traveled to Dailan in Northern China to learn and document traditional acrobatic and martial art techniques of the Dragon Dance. Back in San Francisco, she taught the difficult moves to her dancers, for its first performance in 1998, only later incorporating professional martial artists.

Woo also brought from China the fantastic 160-foot-long handcrafted dragon. CPAA painstakingly modified the puppet for black light technology, repainting each scale to make a glittering rainbow. Traditional Dragon Dance music is slow and flowing, but Woo asked composer Phil Young to compliment Celestial Dragon with up-tempo electronic MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) music.



TITLE: Dragon King
DANCERS: Christina Cheng,Jie Huang, Zhou Hui, Nanxi Liu, Xing Jiu Liu, Virginia Look, Jin Yong Ren, Wen Long Sun, Bing Wang,Xue Bing Xu, Shuo Zhang, Ying Chao Zhang
COMPOSER: Phil Young
INTERNATIONAL GUEST MUSICIANS: China Central Conservatory of Music - Professor Xili Gui (concert dulcimer), Professor Yue Li (Chinese flute), Professor Jianhua Wang (percussion), Professor Qiang Zhang (pipa)

Dragon King is an original choreography by Artistic Director Yong Yao, blending Chinese classical dance, Peking acrobatics and kung fu. The Emperor is holding court in his crystal palace at the bottom of the sea, splendid in his finest gold and black. The court is populated by an array of sea creatures: The Golden Turtle Prime Minister, The Crab General, The Prawn Warriors, The Princess Gold Fish, and beautiful blue Seaweed Fairies. Today is the Dragon King's birthday party, and his subjects display their considerable talents.

Phil Young's original score is played by four international guest musicians, all professors from the Central Music Conservatory in Beijing, and internationally recognized artists: Qiang Zhang on pipa, Xili Gu on concert dulcimer, Jianhua Wang on percussion, and Yue Li on Chinese flute. Professor Qiang Zhang is a concert pipa musician, and a leading proponent of pipa research and performance. Professor Xili Gui is a well-known concert dulcimer (or yangqin) artist and has published many articles on performance. Professor Jianhua Wang is an award-winning master of percussion and serves as the Vice-Chair of National Percussion Association. On Chinese flute, Yue Li was Golden Award winner of many national competitions, and is a rising star of Chinese folk music.

Dragon King is the second act of the dance drama Dragon2000, created by Chinese Performing Artists of America’s (CPAA) artistic team—choreographer Yong Yao, composer Phil Young, and costume designer Ching Shyu, and playwright Ann Woo, one of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Awardees. The costumes were inspired by court paintings of the Tang Dynasty (7th Century). The original production was about 60 minutes long with many spectacular acts such as Coral Fairies, Blue Fish Court Ladies, and the Pearl Fairy popping out of a giant clam. Dragon King is featured in A Journey of 5,000 Years, which has been on national tour since 2004.



TITLE OF PIECE: Feng, Sui (Wind, Water)
DANCERS: Ling Gao,Yan Lin, Virginia Jian, Ya Lan King, Cha Ying Ko, Bing Wang, Xue Bing Xu, Yang Yang, Yung Feng Yu,Ying Chao Zhang

The Chinese Performing Artists of America present an innovative choreography by Master Yong Yao, which integrates two Chinese martial arts with the philosophical principals of feng sui. Nourishing all life, the elements of wind and water are recognized in Chinese culture as two of the most essential elements. The even, fluid movement discipline of tai chi simulates water flowing on low ground, while the energetic, forceful technique of kung fu depicts blowing wind up above – here time is experienced as a quality. These two forces, part of the yin-yang principal of opposites, also manifest in the costuming and directions saluted by the dancers. The fans express the wind’s power.



DANCERS: Christinia Cheng, Ling Gao, Ya Qin Han, Jie Huang, Virgina Jian, Yalan King, Chia Yin Ko, Jinmei Li, Xing Jiu Liu, Yan Liu, Liyun Qiu, Bing Wang, Yun Feng Yu, Yinchao Zhang

In traditional Chinese society marriage was arranged, typically by the parents. In some minority cultures, and in contemporary times, youth have more freedom to choose their mates. Courting between men and women has been glorified in many forms of arts such as literature, painting, music and dance. The piece presented in the 2005 Festival, Moon Courting, is a dance of humor and joy, which plays with themes from several minority tribes in China. It depicts scenes of young men from different tribes who are competing for the hand of a beautiful girl. Every boy tries to sit on the girl's moon-shaped skirt to get closer to her, but she skillfully and playful tries to avoid them. Another scene pictures a young man thrown into a group of maidens of the Yi minority. He is dazzled and is indecisive about whom to pick because they are all so beautiful.


DANCERS: Yi Guan, Jinmei Li, Yang Yang and Xue Bing Xu

The feminine heavenly beings known as apsaras, are a cardinal symbol throughout Southeast Asia. While apsaras are noted in Hindu mythology, Buddhist literature elaborates on them as being a symbol of enlightenment. They signify breath and the continuity of life, and they are the model of femininity in many Asian cultures. Because they have such a central position in the mythology and philosophy of Buddhist China, they have become the inspiration of many visual and performing artistic works.

In the 2004 Festival, the Cupertino branch of the Chinese Performing Artists of America performed Flying Apsaras, based on the original 1950s choreography of Madam Dai. This noted Chinese choreographer visited the caves of Dung-Huang, an important stop on Buddhist pilgrimages along the Silk Road. These ancient caves have hundreds of bare-footed, diaphanously-robed apsaras painted on the walls. They further depict the apsaras holding long silk ribbons drawing rainbow-like curves across the sky. So inspired was Madam Dai by the encounter with these murals, that she created a choreography that also used the silk ribbon technique preserved by the Peking Opera. The long silk ribbons depict the flying motion in the sky of these ethereal beings.

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