Our Art Form and Creative Process
In Silicon Valley, thousands of Chinese of first and second generations working in hi-tech industries are known for their academic achievements and hard work. Yet Chinese cultural identity is ambiguous to many citizens, including the Chinese-Americans themselves. As global economy and world politics grow, there is a need to understand the culture of the 20% world population, and the 10% Chinese Americans in the Bay Area. America is a country of immigrants and a melting pot. However, the urgency now is not the assimilation but the preservation of the traditional arts brought over by immigrants from various countries. The arts and cultures of the world have been evolving for thousands of years. They embody the wisdom of humanity that people of today can benefit from learning and sharing the knowledge and experiences. Different cultures are like individual gems, but they need the passionate artists to make them into beautiful necklaces.
Chinese performing arts are rooted in thousands of years of culture – the result of continuous assimilation, since the Stone Age, of hundreds of tribes in Asia. China today comprises of 56 nationalities, including the Han (the majority, 93%) and other minorities, such as Mongolian, Dai, Yao, and etc. that have diverse folk arts in music, dance, storytelling, and beyond. The so-called classical performing arts were developed in court to entertain the Emperor and the upper class and later spread to common folk. In contemporary times since the 20th Century, Western art forms have been introduced to China; so, many fine creations are the fusion of the East and the West.
We believe in “1+1>2”. This is true with creative arts. We are especially interested in multi-discipline as well as multi-culture productions that take advantage of the rich and diverse cultures in our community, known as Silicon Valley. Some of our successful examples are the 7-minute Wind, integrating the Chinese fan and Chinese Kung Fu, accompanied by percussion; The Chinese Emperor and the Nightingale, the 30-minute production employing Chinese long sleeves court dance and the Chinese warriors showcasing Chinese martial arts, while the Nightingale is portrayed by a ballet dancer. The biggest creation I have ever produced is the 90-minute, $500,000 joint venture in 2005 with Ballet San Jose, the Middle Kingdom – Ancient China, an epic about the four Chinese ancient inventions: the compass, gunpowder, paper and printing. The production was praised by dance critics as a seamless integration of ballet and Chinese dance. On the other hand, the 8-minute Celestial Dragon created in 1998 costs only $4,000 and yet is one of the most stunning acts among my productions. Artistic creations are fun because there is no formula to follow but to play with different elements to create magic. One rule is to produce something beyond my audience’s expectation.
Who is your audience and how do you want them to react?
CPAA’s productions target the American general audience who usually like upbeat, vibrant, spectacular performances. Education and entertainment are two important criteria in my productions. A performance has to be entertaining to attract a broad audience, the young and old of different cultural backgrounds. It is also educational because we want the audience to know that the Chinese are as beautiful as other people who make up the tapestry of our society. We want to inspire them to learn more about Chinese culture, history, and our contribution to world civilization in ancient and contemporary times. During the process, they would be inspired to learn their own culture and history as well.
When the audience leaves the theater, we want them to remember my shows for a long time. We want them to talk to their family members and friends about our performances and to come back the next season.
What we do to better our art
Cultural and arts organizations in our society are nonprofit organizations and are usually under budget. We have learned to spend $1 to achieve $2 value. We always feel that we could do better if we have more funding and organizational resources. Therefore, seeking new grant and initiate new meaningful projects are a few ways to get more funding. Human resources are another factor. We have learned to spend $1 to achieve $2 value to save money. We try to save money so that we could increasingly employ the finest practitioners of our Chinese arts, upgrade my stage sets, sound and lighting effects, costume, as well as improve the marketing and outreach in order to provide a great experience to the artists and the audience. The artistic team is to expand their knowledge in art, world history and natural science; to attend local performances and seminars; and to watch news every day. We take advantage of modern telecommunication to be aware of what is going on among friends, in my community and around the world. The more we know, the better our art is. Moreover, I we make it a habit to self-critic and listen to others, so we could learn from both my failures and successes to better our work.
Our contribution to the community
Silicon Valley is well known for its hi-tech industry, culture diversity, and inclusiveness that contribute to its strength, both in business opportunities and quality of life. The immigrants from over 100 nations and regions of the world have preserved some of the best parts of their heritage while maintaining their roots in their homeland. We envision that, for the world harmony, now is the good time to promote culture diversity within Silicon Valley as well as abroad. We believe that Innovation and creativity are the core characteristics of Silicon Valley, both in hi-tech and arts. We are indeed at the international crossroads and have a deep influence on both sides of the Pacific. In doing my part, CPAA has mounted at least one new work every year and also form collaborations with prestigious organizations for the cultural enrichment of our community, serving 15,000 people in Santa Clara County and about 10,000 outside of Santa Clara County every year.