Chinese New Year - dancers, dragons and football!

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 15 February 2016

It's New Year's eve of the Fire Monkey 2016 and Wellington Phoenix play against rivals Perth Glory with a spectacular collaborative performance of classic Chinese folk dance, modern dance and dragons. The Asian Events Trust and Wellington City Council pull out all the stops to bring this colourful festival to the public each year.

Fifteen years ago the annual Chinese New Year Festival started with a humble audience of 50 on Courtney place, now it’s a week long celebration that takes over Wellington city, drawing an estimated crowd of 35,000.

We are at the Pump Dance studio in Taranaki Street, Wellington and The Little Egret Folk Dance Troupe (little white herons also native to New Zealand) are a group of dancers from Xiamen, Wellington’s sister city in Fujian, China.

Linda Lim from the Asian Events Trust explains the two very different dance groups rehearsing for the spectacular opening of the game between Wellington’s soccer team the Phoenix and rivals the Perth Glories.

Thirty dancers and musicians in total have come from the prestigious Xiamen Art School which was founded in 1958. However only 5 of their top dancers from The Little Egret Folk Dance Troupe are collaborating with dancers with New Zealand’s renowned choreographer Deirdre Tarrant for today's show at the Westpac Stadium.

Catherine Lo translates for The Little Egret's Manager Ms Lin Nai Zhen and the five dancers who range in age from youngest member at 22 to the eldest at 31. For most of the Chinese dancers it's their first time to this country but one dancer first came to dance in New Zealand when she was just 17.

Ms Lin was one of the Xiemen dancers and the role model for The Little Egrets group before she became their manager. In fact her first visit to perform in our country was in 1997, so she has a long connection with the dance scene here.

Deirdre Tarrant explains that their schedule is frenetic with their extra educational programme teaching classic Chinese folk dance to students across the Wellington region over the week, but that's part of the build up to their big collaborative stage performances with Deirdre's own dancers on the upcoming weekend of the Chinese New Year public festival and street parade.

Chinese New Year - dancers, dragons and football!

Chinese New Year - dancers, dragons and football! Photo: RNZ / Lynda Chanwai-Earle

At the Stadium

We've relocated to the Westpac Stadium and it’s a stunning day for the game as the soccer rivals warm up behind the performers during dress rehearsals.

Vince Sue, leader of one dragon team discusses choreography with Deirdre. Both dragon dance teams are from the Wellington Chinese Sports and Cultural Centre.

Nicole Foy tells me she's a little nervous because it's her first time to sing in the stadium. She practices Pokarekare Ana centre stadium during rehearsals as The Little Egrets leap and bound in their glamorous red, green and blue costumes. Deirdre's dancers flank Nicole on the other side, dressed in light costumes with hand painted calligraphy.

The spectators arrive and its countdown time as excited performers wait at the entrance of a stadium full of Phoenix fans. Phoenix Crew Helen Mallon is Stage Manager in charge. She tells me her role is voluntary and huge fun.

The opening performance and repeat at half-time go off without a hitch, Nicole keeping it nicely cool when the MC runs off forgetting to hand her the mic. The stadium has a healthy turnout for the game with very vocal Phoenix supporters chanting non-stop throughout.

Also nicely cool and colour coordinated is the lucky "emperor yellow" t-shirts of the dragon teams that match the Phoenix team.

And in-spite of The Little Egrets and the glittering dance opening with two lucky dragons, Perth Glory kept their finals hopes alive with a 1-0 win over Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium.

The animal for this lunar year is the monkey marking a full 12 year cycle in the Chinese Zodiac since the last year of the monkey in 2004. Witty and intelligent but also mischievous and naughty, Monkeys are known to be a mercurial sign.

Global predictions? Apparently economic growth; a good year to break free and take calculated risks. Financial forecasters may be “watching this space” as far as China is concerned.

As for our Phoenix team, better luck next time lads, in the meantime the Year of the Fire Monkey gets off to a roaring start.