Set in 1930s China against the backdrop of the Japanese occupation, Dragon Boat Racing tells the story of how one of the most famous pieces of Cantonese music blossomed from a forbidden love. The Chinese dance-drama first premiered in China in 2014 and gained such popularity throughout the country that it was considered a cultural phenomenon. Now DC residents will get the chance to experience the buzzworthy production with performances by the Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble at the Kennedy Center on February 2-4.
After gaining much success in China, the performance was brought to the U.S. by the China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG), where it premiered in New York. The performance then returned to China where it won a Wenhua Award, an award presented only every three years by the Chinese government to recognize the highest level of performing arts in the country.
Han Zhen and Zhou Liya, the two young women who directed and choreographed the dance-drama, were inspired to tell the story of Cantonese music when they visited a small city near Guangzhou just north of Hong Kong, says CAEG Deputy Director Winston Wang. The pair was inspired to tell the story of this music by blending Cantonese history with state-of-the-art visuals.
Cantonese music holds a special place in the hearts of the Chinese – not just because it is historical, but because of its unique characteristics. Wang says that what makes Cantonese music, also referred to as Guangdong music, so unique is its happy, lively quality that is not always commonplace in traditional music from other regions of China.
These qualities made Dragon Boat Racing a perfect contender for CAEG’s Image China cultural exchange initiative, which aims to share Chinese culture with the world. Wang says this piece of culture is a great way for Americans to see a small sliver of Chinese history told through the eyes of the Chinese themselves.
“Through this dance-drama, Americans could learn how the Chinese people in the 1930s treated their marriages and how they reacted to the invasion of the Japanese,” he says.
With its dramatic plot told through music and dance and its high-tech, visual elements, Dragon Boat Racing is a show not to miss. And as Wang mentioned, it’s not something that we Americans get to see every day.
Dragon Boat Racing runs for 120 minutes with one intermission at the Kennedy Center from February 2-4. Tickets start at $30.