CAAM Chinese Dance Theater annual performance focuses on history of the drum


Each year the CAAM Chinese Dance Theater presents its annual 90 minute dance production spectacular at O’Shaughnessy Auditorium on the campus of St. Catherine University, 2004 Randolph Avenue, St. Paul.

This year’s performances are held on Saturday Jan. 23, 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 24, at 2:00 p.m. It just wouldn’t be the Lunar New Year without the pair of spectacular public performances and two additional 45 minute shows for area Twin Cities school children brought in just for the show.

The 2010 Production theme of “The Sound of Drums from the Land of China”, features many styles and uses of the Chinese drums.

“The distinguishing features of this show from previous shows are that through communication of the drum, it is telling the story of a nations journey from ancient times in China, through periods of history to modern days dances,” said Teng Lili, Artistic Director of CAAM CDT (through an interpreter).

Rosaline Tsai, CDT Director of Education Outreach, said the 2010 production was inspired by the thousand drummers that added to the pageantry of the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremonies in 2008.

Teng and assistant director and dance teacher, Li Ying, put together a showcase of the many types of vibrant drums in China, along with the variety of sizes, sounds, rhythms and costumes which accompany the diverse ethnic groups that make up Chinese culture.

The performance is a blend of Teng’s contemporary choreography, and the classical tradition of Li Ying, that is exemplified in Silken Splendor (a long sleeve dance) and “Rhythms of Dunhuang”, a piece based on the Silk Road.

“Rhythms of Dunhuang” is a dance set in the time when southern and northern dynasties were in a civil war around 1,500 years ago. The routine features beautiful costumes and chest drums and the dancers exhibit agility and strength to bring alive the period of the Silk Road.

Although a tumultuous time it was also a flourishing period for China’s arts and culture. The dance features smaller drums that are attached to the body, which was common at the time of great dislocation of peoples.

Dunhuang became an important stop along the Silk Road and played a role in the expansion of Buddhism as displayed by the great murals and monuments left behind.

Teng said her dances are contemporary interpretation of the nation’s struggles. My Yellow Earth is a modern piece based on recent history when China was under invasion during World War II.

“It evokes the emotions about yellow earth being the cradle of Chinese civilization for several thousand years,” said Teng.

Another contemporary piece features women dancers in the traditional Korean dress, the Han Bak. Teng said the contemporary piece reflects is a modern dance style that acknowledges the Koreans as a major ethnic group among the 58 groups that make up China.

The first known Chinese drum dates back approximately 5,000 years, when a clay pot was covered with an antelope skin and beat to honor the gods and ancestors. Since that time the drums have been creates for all types of purposes including military, ceremonial, cultural and dance.

The Double Stick dance features a small hand held drum with double stick that dates back to the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. It started out as street performers and during famine migrant farmers and beggars entertained to make a living. Evolved into a major form of celebratory dance.

My Yellow Earth reflects the dances of Central China dance using a double sided drum.

“Let’s Play!” showcases several youth in white gi-style costumes, together dancing and playing the small hand-held drums that have been in use for more than 2,500 years.

“Yao Mountain Ballad” is a mixed adult and youth piece that features legends and lore with some really good music.

Teng said her career spans more than 50 years and is both rewarding and meaningful. She started out as a professional dancer and choreographer in China. She said her approach as a cultivating process of discovering elements of Chinese culture and expressing that through dance.

In Minnesota, she said her role has evolved into communication with a focus on spreading culture through dance, and using dance education for youth development and cultural communications in this society.

Some parents and area volunteers were recruited through sponsoring company employees. Jim Thielman and Grant Moos are first time performers, joining slightly more experienced CDT parents of youth dancers, Mark Youngdale, Aiping Wei, Hien Huynh and Wang Jin Chun in two dances, including the big grand finale, My Yellow Earth.

Three Youngdale sisters, Maddie, 13, Elena, 11, and Maggie, 9, of Minneapolis, have also dance with CDT for as long as they can remember.

Maddie said she enjoys when her school comes to the show. They tell her it takes a while to find her in costume but that they recognize me and then say they enjoyed the show.

“It felt good not to just be dancing for strangers,” said Maddie.

She especially likes that by studying Chinese language and culture at her school, the show takes on new meaning when she can identify the ethnic origin of drums and relate them to the many cultures they are representing in the performance.

The sisters said that weekend practices are long and grueling and that it is not a rarity to hear a loud voice when things are going as they should. Maddie said that its difficult but that production makes it all worth it in the end.

“CAAM important to me have lot of lasting relationships with friends here that I don’t get in other places because don’t know them for as long.

Other dances include Listen to My Drums; Red Lanterns Greeting the New Year; Jubilation; Rituals of the Ancient; Harvest; and Blessings.

CAAM is Chinese American Association of Minnesota.

Tickets are $15 with student, senior and family discounts. Children 4 and under are free. For more information call 651-246-3387, 763-360-2696, email and visit