On Saturday, February 3rd, the George’s River Council’s 16th annual Lunar New Year Festival celebrated the coming of the Year of the Pig, or Year of the Boar (if you happen to be Japanese). Hurstville bearing such a big Chinese community, it was easy to think of the celebrations as those for the Chinese New Year but to be part of the audience it was obvious that this is Asia’s celebration.
A parade down Forest Road was followed by speeches and an afternoon sojourn through the diverse performing arts of China and Asia in general. There were food stalls and rides and market stalls as well. The demonstration of the making of the Dragon Beard dessert was particularly popular. Nimble hands stretching long fine noodles from a coarse ring of dough was mesmerising and the culinary treat well worth the wait.
The performances drew and kept me by the stage for most of the afternoon. What was showcased just touched the traditional cultures of chiefly China but also reflected the varying levels of assimilation Chinese Australians enjoy. Performances ranged from the very Western, Kung Fu Panda Show to the very traditional, Harmonlodies Cantonese Opera Studio and then there was Chinese Pop/Variety Show culture in the energetic Wah Dee.
But Chinese culture was not the only one on show. The Japanese drumming group, Wadaiko Rindo Sydney were a visual and audio treat. Their energetic drumming – the rhythmic rise and fall of each arm – the physical annunciation of each beat was a choreography of exact precision and an ecstasy of joy.
The MCC Dance Group of NSW provided a treat in the particular look and sound of their first dance number. Their recorded music arrested my attention immediately. The defining instrument was, unexpectedly, the clarinet. For me, if there is a type of music that the clarinet is idiosyncratic to, its the music of the Balkans, Turkey and the Middle East. I have never associated it with the music of the far East. After the Lunar Festival, I’m no longer sure.
The look of MCC’s all female performers also amazed me. Their costume had surprising similarities to the folkloric costumes of the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Over tall tunics the women wore long embroidered smocks, a flower behind the ear and a compact furlined cap. They looked a folkloric fusion of East and West. Asia being so broad it was difficult to guess where their culture sprang geographically. Was it a far western province of China?
Despite the rain the festival was a success. It offered a glimpse into various subcultures of Sydney that aren’t marketed to the general populace. If there is one thing that the organisers can improve on for next year it would have to be the programme. So much more could be gained from the experience if each performing group could be introduced within those pages. Of course there is an added benefit to having a larger programme – more space for advertising and therefore revenue raising.