By John Winters, for The Ukiah Daily Journal.
Ukiah’s Sixth Annual Lantern Festival is a festive welcome to the Year of the Rooster
Chinese New Year, the start of the Chinese lunar calendar year, is a two-week period filled with ceremonies and festivities. It is a time to give thanks to the deities that oversee the crops and pray for a bountiful harvest.
Marking the start of the spring growing season in China, the Lantern Festival, which traditionally takes place in Chinese communities around the world at the end of the two-week-long Chinese New Year, is an opportunity to celebrate the reunion of family, to celebrate one’s health and well-being, and to pray for good crops and fertility.
For the more than 300 Ukiahans and visitors who attended the Sixth Annual Lantern Festival in the Alex R. Thomas Jr. Plaza in Historic Downtown Ukiah on Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m., the festival was a chance to ring in the Chinese New Year with traditional dance and music performances by students of the Developing Virtue Boys School from the campus of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
Inclement weather has never kept the Lantern Festival from delighting Ukiah during Chinese New Year, and this year was no exception. “Rain or shine, we always put the event on,” said Rick Hansen, executive director of the Ukiah Main Street Program, which organizes the event in conjunction with the Developing Virtue Boys School at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Talmage.
“We’ve always wanted to do things that celebrate the diversity in the community,…and the Lantern Festival is a wonderful way to celebrate that diversity with a fun community.”
The Lantern Festival began with the Dragon Dance, an energetic display of dance and percussion where the dancers performed as segments of a long Chinese dragon lofted high on poles, which chased a rotating pearl around in the heavens.
Ryan Liang, a student at Developing Virtue Boys School, performed in the Dragon Dance as the Pearl. “I will be doing musician for the Lion Dance, I’ll be the Pearl for Dragon Dance, and I’ll be in drumming, too. We come from the school together, and there’s different things that we do here, such as selling T-shirts [and] teaching kids how to make lanterns. There’s different performances such as the Chinese Orchestra, Lion Dance, Dragon Dance and drumming.”
The Dragon Dance was followed by a traditional drumming performance underneath the pavilion, an energetic, dynamic performance during which the entire drum troupe performs a choreographed ensemble piece where the performers play the drums with wooden beaters, then take turns standing atop the drums, rotating throughout the assemblage of drums to play each others’ drums, and raising their arms in the air in an exuberant display of showmanship that evokes the advent of spring through the voices of approaching thunder and clattering rain on rooftops.
Taken as an entire piece, the choreographed movements of the drummers evokes the stirring of spring winds and, finally, the rays of sunlight shining down onto the wet fields, ready to receive the spring’s new harvest.
The Poloynis family got front row spots for the traditional drumming performance. “We’ve been coming every year. It’s pretty awesome,” said Achilles Poloynis. “I brought my son Henry and my daughter Avery. This is the start of the Year of the Rooster –that’s Avery’s birth year – so we’re seeing what kind of cool roostery stuff we can find throughout the day.”
And what did the kids think of the drumming? “I thought it was really, really, good!” said Henry Poloynis, who attends River Oak Charter School. “It was awesome!” echoed Avery Poloynis, who attends Santa Rosa Charter School for the Arts.
The drumming was followed by a performance of the Chinese orchestra, and finally, the exuberant finale, the Lion Dance.
With cloudy skies and temperatures hovering in the mid-50s, the skies over Downtown Ukiah sprinkled festivalgoers with intermittent rains before the event and during the Dragon Dance, but auspiciously allowed the Lion Dancers to perform their acrobatic dance maneuvers without a drop of rain interrupting a synchronized performance that involved four Developing Virtue students dancing, jumping, and leaping from a series of elevated platforms in two beautiful traditional Chinese lion costumes, where one performer plays the head and the other the tail.
The dancing was accompanied by an energetic performance on traditional Chinese percussion that inspired several children in the crowd of an estimated 200 observers to play “air drums” alongside the Developing Virtue Boys School percussionists, which included Ryan Liang.
“In the future, we’ll be around other places performing,” said Liang. “It’ll be cool if we can have a lot of people come and see us perform or just to be able to enjoy what we do.”