Tuesday, January 24, 2012

TOP STORY >> China troupe thrills crowd at a big show

Leader staff writer

More than 400 people gasped in awe and offered several rounds of robust clapping to the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe on Friday night at its first visit to Jacksonville, where they celebrated the Chinese New Year and helped raise money for a city arts center.

The center could be housed at the closed Jacksonville Elementary School, 108 S. Oak St., off Main Street.

Jacksonville is trying to work out a lease agreement for the property with the Pulaski County Special School District. The plan is to have classrooms, a museum and an exhibition hall for the performing arts. The center would bring visual, musical, literary arts and drama to youth and adult residents.

The driving force behind the effort is the new Jacksonville Arts Council, which met for the first time last month and spearheaded Friday’s event.

Angie Mitchell of Costume Corner, coordinator of the Patriotic Spectacular and one of the Chinese New Year celebration organizers, told the crowd Friday that the council has applied tobe a corporation and is working toward achieving nonprofit status.

Sherwood resident Jean Hill, who has two adopted Chinese granddaughters who live in New York, said Friday evening, “I’ve enjoyed it so far,” after she finished a plate of favorites from the Asian Pacific Resource and Cultural Center.

Hill also remarked on how wonderful it was to see REAL Entertaining. They performed for the crowd from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and wrapped up the show with “It’s a Small World.”

REAL Entertaining is sisters Rebecca, Emily, Abigale and Lydia Vandervate. They play the accordion, flute, violin and harmonica. The youngest of the sister is 8 and the oldest recently become a teenager.

Jacksonville High School coach Marvin Lindley, who teaches art, stood near the doorway to the hallway filled with paintings and drawings his students created. “We put a lot of planning into it. A lot of hard work went into it. Our goal is to have a center for the arts. That’s our goal and this is our dream,” he said.

One of the drawings was of a person’s body curled into a larger hand, but the lines and texture blended together so well that a viewer had to look closely to see the vulnerable creature.

Another attraction was the silent auction, which included decorated cakes that earned their creators a little change for their wallets. Prizes were $100 for first place, $50 for second place and $25 for third place.

The cake in the shape of red dragon captivated everyone. Its baker was 10-year-old Aurora Johnson, who was sitting next to it nonchalantly. She won first place in the child category.

Other winners, in the adult category, were Elizabeth Johnson with first place, Angie Grant with second and Jennie Stewart with third.

Sam Parsley, owner of Cakes by Sam at 1212 John Harden Drive in Jacksonville, said about the delicious works of art, “There’s a lot of talent here. You can tell their hearts were into it.”

She pulled Johnson aside to ask questions in order to figure out if the girl had help with her tasty treat. Parsley said her conclusion was that the child is very gifted and creative as well as a jokester.

“She said she could be my kitchen slave,” Parsley said with a laugh, but nodded yes when asked if she would consider hiring Johnson when she gets older.

Parsley said she told Johnson’s mother to have her enter something in the Tulsa Sugar Show, which is held the first week in October.

Another star of the evening was Consul General Xu Erwen for the People’s Republic of China in Houston. “The people (in Jacksonville) are so friendly. The year of the dragon is a very auspicious sign. It is luck and bravery,” she said to The Leader before the show. Erwen met Gov. Mike Beebe and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark) during her visit.

“I would like to take the opportunity to express our deep appreciation for your support. Over the past three decades, progress has been made.

It (China and America) is the important, the most dynamic relationship. My job is to promote good relationships. I look forward to the future building a stronger relationship. We wish all of you good luck and the best in the New Year,” she told the audience.

Jacksonville Mayor Fletcher presented Erwen, Consulate-general Wang Dong, Consulate-general Cai Lian, their staff and the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe with honorary citizenship certificates. Erwen also received an ornate key to the city.

Sue Khoo, owner of Unique Furniture, greeted the audience that was patiently waiting for more than two hours of entertainment to begin. The show included live commercials promoting the sponsors of the celebration.

People wearing outfits, one of which was a monkey suit, walked the runway advertising Costume Corner and another ad featured a bank robber and a teller who had a candid conversation related to which bank would be best for him to try the crime at.

Khoo said, in an excited tone, “Are you ready for something different? We’re going to have some fun,” then translated that into Chinese.

Peppered throughout the local acts were performances by the acrobatic troupe, which always earned a standing ovation for twisting their bodies in unimaginable ways.

“It was awesome. I loved the stunts they pulled off,” said Marbe Meneses.

Trish Winer said, “I thought it was pretty amazing how they could balance and their strength.”

JHS English teacher Elizabeth Lanius, said, “It was beyond amazing. I loved to see the culture that this brought to our city.”

Christina Vaughn said, “This was my first time at a Chinese New Year and it won’t be my last.”

Tao Chen with the troupe said, “The show was very nice. The whole performance with the local people was very special. It is a beautiful city. The local people, their enthusiasm is very good.”

Fletcher said to the audience and the city’s guests, “America is such a special place. We celebrate diversity. In Jacksonville, we have the opportunity to embrace diverse and great people like Sue in our community. It is America where you can plant your dreams and see them to fruition.”

Khoo joked with the crowd, “I worry we have no more than 20 people show up.”

Mitchell added, “The arts aren’t just a painting out there (gesturing toward the hallway). Aren’t those amazing? Those are high school kids. The arts are visual, drama, literal. You are an artist in yourself and you don’t even realize it. Your penmanship is art.”

The Jacksonville High School color guard presented the flags gracefully before the school’s drumline stole the spotlight with their faster and faster movements that were in perfect sync.

Dr. Alan Storyguard, a local physician and concert pianist, played jazz selections “Wade in the Water” and “Baby you don’t have to go” with Dave Rogers and Brian Wolverton. Colorful spotlights on both sides of the stage seemed to dance with their music.

Storyguard performed at Carnegie Hall in 2003 and the trio play there in April.

The Jacksonville High School Jazz Choir gathered on the stage twice to sing “Luck be a Lady” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it ain’t got that Swing.”

Lisa Kirkpatrick and Darral Pogue swept across the floor with their ballroom dancing before a preview of the high school’s upcoming production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” a Broadway play.

Hannah Shelleto’s powerful voice reached the back of the packed room in “Somewhere that’s green,” during a nasal monologue that imitated her character, Audrey. Audrey is a sweet, quiet, ditsy and insecure coworker of and the object of protagonist Seymour’s affections. But she is dating an abusive and sadistic dentist.

Then Shelleto performed the duet “Suddenly, Seymour” with Chase Smiley, who will be playing the role of Seymour, the good-hearted protagonist and a nerdy florist who loves strange and interesting plants.