- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

The Kennedy Center’s monthlong Festival of China blasted off Saturday night with elaborately staged dance and music performances followed by a massive fireworks display over the Potomac. Impressed Americans in the audience agreed that if the celebration was a harbinger of how China presents the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the world can expect a showstopper of breathtaking proportions.

The mostly black-tie crowd was transfixed throughout the performance in the Eisenhower Theater, which included some serious Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics, especially the dancer from China’s National Acrobatic Troupe who balanced a glass bowl on one foot while being catapulted atop the shoulders of another dancer who just happened to be standing upon the shoulders of two others. Or the exquisite pas de deux in which the ballerina poised on one foot in toe shoes upon her partner’s outstretched arm, a maneuver that she then repeated on his head. Ouch.

After the show, about 500 guests, including Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong, KenCen ChairmanSteve Schwarzman, philanthropist Catherine Reynolds, Colin and Alma Powell, Buffy Cafritz, Calvin andJane Cafritz, Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao, Jim Kimsey andDorothyandWilliam McSweeny proceeded upstairs to the terrace for the pyrotechnics depicting images of dragons and a whirling tornado designed by contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang and set off from nine boats on the river below. The blasts, which could be heard across the city, briefly stopped traffic on Memorial Bridge and must have stunned passengers in the five or six airplanes that passed overhead.

“That’s the thing about the Chinese,” one guest was overheard telling a friend. “They don’t do anything halfway.”

The extravaganza kicked off four weeks of Chinese music, dance and theater in the city, coordinated with China’s Ministry of Culture and planned for more than three years by Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser and Alicia Adams, head of the Center’s international programs. Miss Adams said she was struck most by the artists’ incessant quest for perfection as she worked out major cultural and language barriers and the logistics of bringing nearly 900 performers and technicians across the globe. “Their discipline, proficiency, eagerness and hunger to succeed was inspiring,” she said.

Mr. Kaiser, who’s been back and forth to teach Chinese officials about the intricacies of arts administration, maintained that he wasn’t surprised a bit by the country’s artistic excellence and diversity. “What surprised me is how interested Americans are,” he said. “They’re buying up tickets like crazy.”

— Christina Ianzito

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