By Elizabeth Greenberg, Staff Writer

When I went to see the Twin Cities Chinese Dance Center (TCCDC) 2012 Chinese New Year Celebration Show, I certainly wasn't expecting world class Italian opera.

I did expect more music than the name would indicate. Music was everywhere in China: on the train between Beijing and Chengdu, I saw a man pull out a violin and begin playing folk tunes. What seemed like half the people in the train started singing along. More than once I'd gone to see a presentation on Chinese media or geography at Grinnell College and had it end with a singing performance. But I expected an evening of mostly dance, with maybe a few musical and instrumental numbers. What I got was something very different.

I was honestly a little apprehensive as the evening opened. The ushers ran out of programs well before every audience member was in the auditorium: I had to borrow my program from the kind gentleman sitting next to me. The first number, a full-ensemble piece, began with a soloist doing a truly impressive backbend, but I got the impression the company was made up of stellar dancers who weren't really used to dancing together as a group. Furthermore, there was a voiceover in Chinese that was never translated: while I understood it, I was afraid that it signified that the show would be inaccessible to the crowd members who didn't speak Mandarin.

All of my initial apprehensions proved incredibly ill-founded. A pair of emcees introduced each number in both English and Chinese, and every small group and solo piece was fantastic. The dancers ranged in age—there was an incredibly adorable small children's number called 你可喜欢我—and each choreography was skillfully executed and physically challenging. The dance forms ranged from traditional Miao to ballet to fusion, and the use of props and costumes was complex and imaginative: I was particularly fond of the Paper-Cut Girls number and of the unusual use of fans. The one thing I could have done with less of was the fog machine: it felt like half of the numbers started with fog.

But that's just the dance portion of the show. Nearly half of the numbers were musical numbers, most of them vocal but a few instrumental. I was blown away by the quality of the musicians in the show. Not only did the TCCDC book Jinxing Zhou and Guilan Ying, two China National Class One Performers, but the show also featured several local artists who could hold their own with them. I was especially impressed by tenor Shaohua Zhou's performance of Drum Beats from the Northwest Plateau. I was a little bewildered by the amount of Italian opera in the show—the Zhou and Ying did several Puccini and Verdi solo and duet numbers—but it was unsurprisingly wonderful.

I was impressed enough by the show that I actually went to the website to see if the TCCDC offered any adult-level ballet classes I could take. (They do not. But they do offer a number of adult classes: Chinese, Latin, Exercise, and Body Toning.) I'll definitely be going to see this group the next opportunity I have.

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