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This article was prepared for the January 28, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Ringing in the Year of the Monkey

After the Christmas and New Year holidays, Chinese American

communities across the country prepare for the upcoming Year of the

Monkey. This is the year 4701 on the Chinese calendar, which began

when the Emperor Huang united the tribes living in the Central Plain

around the Yellow River Basin. The people marked the passage of the

years with 12 different animals. This year is the Year of the Monkey,

and the holiday period began on January 22 and ends February 5, with

celebrations from Plainsboro to Newark.

The Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company brings "The Monkey King in the Palace of

Heaven" — a program of music and dance telling one of the most

beloved stories in Chinese classical literature — to the New Jersey

Performing Arts Center in Newark on Saturday, January 31, and Sunday,

February 1.

The Monkey King is one of the most popular characters among Chinese

children, and the Nai-Ni Chen production features guest artists Tao

Liu and Yao Zhong Zhang (who specializes in the role of the male

warrior in the Beijing Opera). According to the legend, the Monkey

King (Wu Kung) was born from a rock, fertilized by the essence of

Heaven and Earth. He studied and obtained magical powers from a great

master. In one somersault, he can travel 108,000 miles. He can also

transform himself into different objects at will. He can be larger

than a mountain and smaller than a ladybug. His weapon of choice, the

Wonder Staff, weighs 108,000 Chinese pounds (Jin) and can be

transformed to different sizes at his command.

To appease the Monkey King, who is eager to gain a proper position in

the hierarchy of the Heaven, the Heavenly Emperor grants him a title

of Heavenly Wizard, with the minor responsibility of guarding the

Heavenly Peach Orchard. Humiliated, the Monkey King decides to wreak

havoc on the annual party given by the Queen Mother of the Emperor —

and thus unfolds a battle of heaven and earth.

At this performance, the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company is also unveiling a

new Tibetan dance, choreographed by Wei Chen, a teacher from the

Szechuan University who specializes in Chinese classical and folk

dance. The Newark Museum near the New Jersey Performing Arts Center

houses the largest Tibetan collection in the country, and families

coming to the performances are encouraged to visit the museum, since

the dance steps reflect the way of life of the

Tibetan people.

Also on the program is Nai-Ni Chen’s recently choreographed dance,

"Raindrops," a celebration of the pleasure of sisterhood she enjoyed

growing up in the Rain Harbor of Taiwan, Keeleung, and Tao Chen,

considered one of world’s best Chinese bamboo flutists.

To gain a complete Chinese New Year experience, the audience is

encouraged to participate in the company’s 15-course Chinese banquet

at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center site office. At the banquet,

the company will honor Scott McVay, who has made significant

contributions to the Chinese language and studies program during his

tenure at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation as executive director.

McVay, a former Princeton University administrator, is currently the

president of the Chautauqua Institution in New York.

Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, Saturday, January 31, and

Sunday, February 1, 2 p.m., Victoria Theater, New Jersey Performing

Arts Center. The banquet follows the January 31 performance at 4 p.m.

$18; $9, child. Performance and banquet: $65; $25, child; $100,

contributor.

Plainsboro Public Library ushers in the Year of the

Monkey on Saturday, January 31, from 3 to 6 p.m., with performances,

games, dances, demonstrations of Chinese arts and crafts, Chinese

cooking, and even a ping-pong tournament. Events will take place in

the library, municipal building, and outdoors throughout the complex.

The event is free.

The festivities begin with an outdoor presentation of Plainsboro

Huaxia Chinese School’s 20-member marching drum corps. From 3:30 to 5

p.m. artistic performances include Chinese songs presented by the

Happy Singers, Umbrella Dance by the Princeton Chinese Language

School, and solo pieces by Yingchao Zhang with the Huaxia Chinese

School.

Folk dance, Chinese yo-yo, Chinese opera, and a sword dance are also

featured, as well as demonstrations throughout the afternoon of

Chinese cooking, paper cutting, knotting, and calligraphy. Games for

children, held in the library from 5 to 6 p.m.. include Pick Up M&Ms

with Chopsticks, Ring Toss, Dominoes, Red Fish Go Fish, and Stick the

Ears on the Panda Bear. A ping pong championship match will be held in

the municipal building from 5 to 6 p.m.

The library has one of the largest Mandarin collections in the area

and an expanding collection of videos and CDs. It also boasts a major

collection of English language books about Chinese art and Chinese

translations of classic American authors.

The day ends with distribution of red envelopes — a favorite Chinese

New Year’s custom. Traditionally filled with gifts of money, the

envelopes at the Plainsboro celebration will be filled with

chocolate-filled golden coins.

Chinese New Year Celebration, Saturday, January 31, 3 to 6

p.m., Plainsboro Public Library, 641 Plainsboro Road, Plainsboro.

609-275-2897. Free.


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