By George Basler
Chenqing Song knows political relations between the United States and her native China can be strained, but she also believes art can break down barriers between people.
“Art is very different from political topics,” said the associate professor of Asian and Asian American Studies at Binghamton University. “I believe art, especially performing art, is universal to any nation that embraces love and beauty.”
With that concept in mind, the Center for Theater Arts Collaboration (CTAC), of which Song is a member, is inviting community residents to a performance Friday night (Jan. 20) in Binghamton University’s Anderson Center Chamber Hall to celebrate the 2023 Chinese Spring Festival.
The event is the first concert organized under the auspices of CTAC, jointly formed by Binghamton University and its partner, the National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts (NACTA) in Beijing, China, in December 2021.
As the only center of its kind in the world, CTAC plans to work with scholars and artists in the U.S., China and across the world, to advance East-West theatrical exchange, communication and collaboration through teaching, performance, research and an electronic magazine, a BU release states. “Part of our mission is to promote Eastern performing arts in a way that’s accessible to American audiences,” Song said.
The Spring Festival concert at BU, marking the Chinese New Year (the Year of the Rabbit), will feature both vocalists and musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments. The list of performers, supplied by Song, include two musicians from New York’s Ba Ban Chinese Music Society, playing the flute and the pipa, a traditional Chinese string instrument; a musician from Alfred University playing Guzheng, another traditional Chinese string instrument; two Binghamton University faculty members (a mezzo-soprano and a pianist) performing Chinese ethnic songs, and a member of the renowned Beijing Opera, who will perform traditional Chinese opera, complete with songs and dances.
Song hopes audience members, despite differing traditions, will find that the music “brings similar feelings to everyone like joy, longing, appreciation, beautiful scenery and celebration of holidays.” In that way, “instead of emphasizing differences, we’re emphasizing similarities,” she said.
Binghamton University has a sizeable Asian presence. International students from China make up about five percent of the student body. Likewise, Asian American students are 15 percent of the university’s overall enrollment.
Song, who is also program coordinator for the Chinese Language Program at the university, has lived in Broome County for the past 14 years while teaching at BU and has found this to be a welcoming community. “I’ve never had a bad experience,” she said.
CTAC currently offers courses in three BU departments: theater, music and Asian American Studies. They include four mini-courses: Beijing Opera Face Painting; Beijing Opera Stage Combat I and II; and Beijing Opera Character Types. The music department offers a course in Chinese Music Ensemble. The center’s ambitious plans include holding more concerts at BU and around the country with the goal of introducing more people to Chinese culture, Song said.
IF YOU GO: The 2023 Chinese Spring Festival will begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday (Jan. 20) at BU’s Anderson Center. Tickets at $10 ($5 for students; $7 for faculty, staff, alumni and seniors) are available at the Anderson Center box office, 607-777-2787, or at www.binghamton.edu/anderson-center.