In the bright and colorful China Garden (Liu Ming Yuan), a colorful golden pheasant dances, so lively and lovely, among the blooming peonies. Their dance evokes friendship and mutual understanding and is a celebration of Chinese and Hmong cultures.
By Linda Mealey-Lohmann | MCFGS co-founder, secretary, project manager | September 2022
“Encounter in Liu Ming Yuan,” created by Master Choreographer Shen Pei, made its world debut on the “stage” at the Xiang Jiang Pavilion at Liu Ming Yuan – China Friendship Garden, Phalen Park, St. Paul – on Aug. 27, 28, and Sept. 10. The dance was sponsored by the MN China Friendship Garden Society and was made possible with funding from the Metro Regional Arts Council and the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
This dance is unique for several reasons. First, it combines Chinese and Hmong cultures by featuring a colorful and lively golden pheasant ̶– an ancient symbol of Hmong culture– dancing among a garden of beautiful peonies– symbols of Chinese culture– representing the coming together of the two cultures. Second, Shen created this dance specifically to be performed at the outdoor venue at Xiang Jiang Pavilion. which presented challenges of space limitations and uneven surfaces. Third, this dance is a study in contrasts: the graceful and flowing movements of the peonies as they dance through the China Garden contrast with the golden pheasant’s lively and quick movements. The bright colors of the golden pheasant stood out against the muted colors of the peonies. The gentle, flowing music accompanying the peony dance contrasts with the quick rhythms of the golden pheasant’s music. Following each performance, an explanation of the cultural significance of the dance, costumes and music was presented to the audience to deepen their understanding and appreciation of this new dance creation.
The intention behind this dance was to reflect the 35-year sister-city relationship between St. Paul and Changsha (in China’s Hunan Province), and the growing friendship between the Chinese and Hmong communities as part of this relationship. This dance was performed in the shadow of the Xiang Jiang Pavilion, a gift to St. Paul from Changsha, and the pink granite Hmong Heritage Wall, which recognizes the ancestral connection of the 80,000-strong Minnesota Hmong community to the Changsha area in China where almost two million Hmong live.
Much appreciation to all who gave hundreds of hours in rehearsal, preparation, and performance time: peony dancers Maria Hom, Ju Chang Wang, Starry Wu and Linda Hope; golden pheasant dancer Elena Youngdale; Shen for this wonderful gift she has given the Twin Cities community; Starry Wu, arts coordinator.
In addition to the performances at the pavilion, this dance was also performed at the Daytons Bluff Recreation Center on Sept.7 as part of the Twin Cities Harvest Moon | China Garden Abiding Love Moon Festival sponsored by the MN China Friendship Garden Society and the Association of Sino-American Neocultural Exchange on Sept. 10 at Phalen Park Picnic Island.
After the Sept. 7 performance, Romi Slowiak and Bill Zajicek (president of MCFGS) held a reception at their home (with China-inspired gardens) for the dance ensemble, neighbors and production team to celebrate this great accomplishment. A local leader in philanthropy circles found the evening “the most magical of all she has experienced in 30 years!”
“The impromptu Chinese opera performances of the dancer-daughter of choreographer, and her tenor father turned a reception into an arts salon,” said MCFGS board member and reception host Slowiak.
Shen Pei during rehearsals
Performances at the Xiang Jian Pavilion (l) and Daytons Bluff Recreation Center
Dancer at the reception
Peony dancers in costume with (L to R) Linda Mealey-Lohmann, Shen Pei and Romi Slowiak