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Spirit of East and West; Lew Baxter meets the driving force behind a demonstration of Chinese and British arts theatre.

Byline: Lew Baxter

THE joy of dance and singing has been an essential part of Huang Fenfen's spirit since she was a tiny tot growing up in the province of Zhejiang, in southwest China, yet it has taken a journey of thousands of miles far from her homeland, and an immersion into British culture - and to a large extent Liverpudlian - to finally see that passion flower.

The 26-year-old is the driving force behind what promises to be a sumptuous demonstration of Chinese and British performance arts in a "variety" show with a difference that she has tagged Spring Sonata to celebrate both cultures, and to mark the new Year of the Rat.

It is, she declares enthusiastically a "feast" of dance, music, singing, martial arts and films delivered by a 60-plus strong cast of regional and national artists, as well as dance companies and choirs from local and community groups around Liverpool and the North West.

Many of those taking part are Chinese who are now living in Britain, either studying or working, and she is delighted to welcome people from Liverpool's Chinese community; the oldest in Europe and sharing links in particular with Shanghai since the mid 1860s, and now twinned with China's most dynamic city since 1999.

You might be forgiven for thinking that this young woman with a degree in planning and the environment, gained from the University of Liverpool, who is currently also studying for an MA in marketing at John Moores University, might find the demands of pulling together such an array of talent a mite daunting, never mind that she is also performing her own solo dance pieces, and producing and directing the whole jamboree.

Yet, she is so determined to help promote Chinese culture in her adopted home that the enthusiasm has rubbed off on her friends and colleagues, many of whom have agreed to take part in the one-off show which will take place in Liverpool's recently refurbished Lighthouse Theatre, a large 90-year-old art deco building - a former Gaumont cinema - located a couple of hundred yards from the mighty Anfield football ground.

She personally secured the funding from a number of sources that includes The Arts Council of England, the local Riverside House and Arena Housing Group, the PH Holt Foundation and the Duchy of Lancaster Benevolent Fund, as well as Tiger Beer and a number of restaurants such as China City and Yum Yum.

The scale of the show she is staging with just four assistants, and under the auspices of the China Pearl charity organisation she set up to handle it, is formidable considering the relatively meagre sponsorship of pounds 6,000.

The "cast" is made up of a wide range of diverse talents and interests: from individual singers who will offer up selections from ancient Chinese folklore, through to the 30-strong dance troupe recruited from across the area who will present a combination of contemporary and traditional dance sequences, including the fascinating Umbrella Dance that is performed by both Chinese and British dancers.

"The whole show is a great cross-over of different styles and I am delighted to have found so many willing participants," said Fenfen, who actually put on a similar show, but on a much smaller scale, at Liverpool Unity theatre a year or so back.

Subtitled The Chinese Lantern Festival Culture Show - the popular festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month in the lunar year in the Chinese calendar, or close to it - it will also feature a series of modern dance styles such as rhumba and ballroom.

And the Liverpool-based filmmaker Steve Toner is providing a short movie backdrop for several of the sequences. He has also made a short film to celebrate the early weeks of Liverpool's Capital of Culture reign, which will be shown to depict the city's cultural aspiration.

This will link in to a short film focusing on Beijing as it prepares to host the 2008 Olympic Games in the summer. "We have a wonderful finale which we have named after the official games slogan of One World, One Dream and which features all those taking part singing the Beijing Olympic theme song Forever Friends and Ringo Starr's anthem, Liverpool 8," explained Fenfen.

The evening's entertainment is clearly defined with the more traditional works featuring in the first half, including Chinese traditional music and folk dance linked to a series of folk songs by individuals and choirs, as well as a short Tai Chi demonstration.

Apart from a dozen youngsters aged between seven and 11 from the Liverpool Chinese community, Fenfen has "recruited" 10 LIPA graduates and a group of arts and performance students from Hope University.

She has also persuaded a number of professional Chinese musicians from London to take part and they will perform a flute concerto, which will be accompanied by a couple of instrumentalists playing the two stringed erhu and the pipa, a traditional four-stringed lute.

Fenfen - who in her short six year stay in Liverpool has also studied dance at the city's Community College - will perform her solo piece Silhouette, in which she represents different images, such as a tree or a bird, while one of the principal British male dancers is Edward Swift, with Clive Newton tackling some singing.

One of Fenfen's artistic coups is to have persuaded the British singer Gareth Simpson to perform his remarkable renditions of Peking Opera, one of the few foreigners to tackle this difficult genre.

Meanwhile, four of the main contemporary dance works have been choreographed for this occasion by Miss Qin Liang, who hails originally from the city of Wuhan, on the Yangtze River, but who now lives in Birkenhead.

SPRING Sonata Show - The Lighthouse Theatre, Anfield, Liverpool: Saturday, February 23, at 7.30pm.

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Some 60 dancers will take part in the Spring Sonata Show; One of the dancers in the show, which is a feast of dance, music, singing, martial arts and films
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 15, 2008
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