Monthly Archives: March 2010

“Nixon in China” is exciting opera for Vancouver!

Nixon in China opera presents contemporary Asian Pacific themes – perfect for Canada's Gateway to the Pacific.

Much is made of Vancouver's multicultural diversity and it's role as gateway to the Asian Pacific.  This is the land where Chinese first came to Canada through Victoria and Vancouver.  This is the land where the many Canadians look west over the Pacific, then travel to Asia.  And this is the land, home to the Vancouver Opera, which has been recently staging some very exciting opera such as it's First Nations stylized Magic Flute in 2007 and the commission of Naomi's Road (based on Joy Kogawa's novel Obasan) for its touring ensemble.

“Nixon In China” recalls the historic 1972 visit of American president Richard Nixon to Communist China, the first ever visit by an American president to China, one of the oldest civilizations in the world. In the lead up to it's Canadian premiere, Vancouver Opera has been hosting events and forums to help give the context of the opera, and it's significance to Vancouver' Chinese history, and Canada's role in the Asian Pacific.  Author Margaret MacMillan, author of 1919, and Nixon in China has been brought out to speak to the public, as well as Alexandre Trudeau, son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

This is the Canadian premiere of the original the debuted in Houston Texas.  And it is a significant event for Canadian opera.

It is an interesting opera, with contemporary staging and exciting lighting effects.  The music is reminiscent of Phillip Glass' arpeggiated music, and the songs are mostly non-lyrical.  But overall it is an exciting work that challenges and stimulates the mind.

The opera opens with a full size moving picture of Air Force One jet projected on the scrim.  A light inside the plane reveals a solitary Richard Nixon.  The light fades, revealing the plane again, which in turn rolls away into the distance.  The stage scrim lifts to reveal a mock of Air Foxe One jet on stage, and Richard Nixon steps out of the plane to wave to small crowd of waiting Chinese soldiers.

Richard Nixon is performed by Robert Orth, and it is becoming a signature role for him.  He perfectly captures the behavioral physical characteristics of Nixon, the hunched shoulders, and the movements.  He sings that he is making “a journey for peace.”

There are 6 lead singers in this opera, and they all play pivotal roles for both the music and the story lines.

Chinese Baritone Chen-Ye Yuan’s Chou En-lai is the main counterpoint to Orth's Nixon. He greets Nixon and has the last words of the opera.  Nixon's anxiety about the visit to China, and his place in history is met by Chou's philosophical statements.

Alan Woodrow’s Mao is a character that represents the mystery and vagueness of the Chinese political position, while bass baritone Thomas Hammon’s Kissinger provides some of the comic appeal, as the butt of jokes by both Nixon and Chou.  The real surprise is when Kissinger appears in the 2nd Act's Chinese opera to represent American Imperialism in the Socialist propaganda work of art.

Just how different America and China were apart in understanding and philosophy is wonderfully portrayed by Sally Dibblee’s Pat Nixon.  As a political leaders's wife she is taken on visits to a pre-school, a pig farms and the Ming Tombs.  It is at Tombs that she remarks that she likes the carvings of the stone animals it is a lovely place for a picnic.  She becomes particularly fond of an elephant statue, calling him Jumbo.

Tracy Dahl plays the role of Chi'ang Ching, wife of  Mao.  Her behind the scenes political machinations with the “Gang of Four” that emphasize Maoist philosophies are over the top, just like she was in real life.  The music changes to a sexy syncopation that emphasizes her difference with Chou's direction of foreign affairs and the eventual future progression of Communist China, as it late veered away from Maoist doctrine.

A Highlight of the production is the staging of the Chinese Opera, more martial arts and dance than singing as it is in reality.  Vancouver's Wen Wieng is the choreographer, and former National Ballet's Fu Guo is the featured performer.  It is a typical propaganda art piece about the oppression of workers, with a surprise allegorical visit by Kissenger as American capitalism.

This is an exciting production for Vancouver and Canadian opera.  The staging and direction are excellent.  While the sets are minimalist, it matches the austerity of the music and allows the emphasis to be on the music, and the libretto.  This is an opera to challenge the mind.  The content stimulates political and historical understanding, and opens up future possibilities.  Could a Canadian opera about the 1972 Canada Russia hockey series or Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope be next?  Why not!

in conversation with CBC's Alison Smith
March 17, 7:30 pm at Granville Island Stage.
Buy tickets

“CHINESE VANCOUVER THEN AND NOW: 1972-2010” – Vancouver Opera Speaks


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

7-9 pm

Alice MacKay Room, Vancouver Public Library, Central Branch


Admission is free.

An eminent panel explores the history of Chinese in Vancouver, with
emphasis on the Chinese communities' emergence and development since
1972, the year of Nixon's momentous trip to China. Discover how our
city has been shaped and transformed by Chinese culture over the past
38 years. This will be a fascinating evening. Speakers include eminent
architect Bing Thom, UBC historian Henry Yu, and filmmaker and writer Colleen Leung.

Presented in partnership with the Vancouver Public Library.
Opera Speaks @ VPL is sponsored by Omni BC Diversity Television.

Gung Haggis dragon boat team hits the water again on March 7th

Gung Haggis dragon boat practices are back in action for 2010
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The Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team in June 2009.  Red team shirts and a variety of kilts.  This is a team with a diversity of personalities and ethnicities to match our penchant for promoting cultural diversity through tartans and dragon boat racing.

First timers are welcome – Experienced paddlers are more welcome!

Sundays 11am – starting March 7th.
Tuesdays 6pm – starting March 16 (after the time change)

Meet at False Creek Yacht Club – underneath the North end of the Granville St. Bridge
See map: Click Here

In April – we will move back to Dragon Zone @ Science World/Creekside Park.

After an exciting 2009 season, where we had many exciting races!

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Lotus Sports Clubs' Bill Alley Memorial Regatta @ Barnett Marine Park- Fastest time for a Gung Haggis team 2:03.12.  It's a fun way to start off the season.  Barnett Marine Park is a beautiful location on Burrard Inlet.  The race helps raise money for the Bill Alley Scholarship for junior paddlers of Lotus Sports Club.

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Dragon Zone Regatta @ Dragon Zone – 1st in B Final. Highest finish for a Gung Haggis Team. This is a good cheap race.  3 races in 3 hours.

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Rio Tinto Alcan @ False Creek/Creekside Park, Vancouver – Fastest time for a Gung Haggis team in False Creek at 2:16.33.  For our medal race, we heard bagpipes being played and it really pumped us up.  It was an army bagpiper, who just happened to be Japanese Canadian.  Alas, we didn't medal.

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Richmond – 4th overall! This was the first time we entered the Richmond Dragon Boat Festival.  We only had 10 Gung Haggis paddlers, but supplemented with friends from other teams.  We made the A Final, and missed the bronze medal by 10ths of a second

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Vernon Dragon Boat Race @ Kalamalka Lake – Fastest 200 for a Gung Haggis team at 0:53. Our final time was 1 sec behind the A Final Bronze.  This is one of our favorite races, and we enjoy spending time on the beach, in the water, in the hot tub, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, dancing, drinking, eating… oh… and… dragon boat racing.

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Last Gasp Regatta @ Dragon Zone.  The Taiwan Dragon Boat Race was canceled, so we did this regatta.  The 200m was the warm up race and we came 3rd, pushing us out of the top half Finals – but we easily won our next two 500m races easily as we . Very exciting for the team to have such big leads.

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UBC Day of the Longboat @ Jericho Beach, Vancouver .  We ran 2 mixed teams + 1 mens team.  Our teams were competitive – getting an early lead on our arch rivals friends.  Unfortunately, the Gung Haggis Fat Choy team hit the Gung Haggis Friends team at the beach and was DQed.  But we still almost caught our arch rival friends. 

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Ft. Langley Cranberry Festival Canoe Regatta @ Ft. Langley's Fraser River Arm.  is always one of the most fun, that we have entered 2 teams for the past 3 years.  1 team made the A Final – our first time ever!  Our other team came 1st in B Final.  Everybody had incredible fun.

We are looking forward to another wonderful season of fun, friendships, fitness… and some medals!!! We deserve it!

Sundays 11am – starting March 7th.
Tuesdays 6pm – starting March 16 (after the time change)

Meet at False Creek Yacht Club – underneath the North end of the Granville St. Bridge
In April – we will move back to Dragon Zone @ Science World/Creekside Park.

Please RSVP to confirm you are coming… First timers are welcome.

email:   gunghaggisdragon at
Todd's cell phone 778-846-7090

Vancouver Olympic Ceremonies: Where was the cultural diversity?

Winter Olympics invited countries from around to the world to multicultural Vancouver, but cultural diversity was missing in the Opening and Closing ceremonies.

Apparently the opening ceremonies did feature performers of cultural diversity.  But we missed it.

before the televised official opening… (“Miss Jully Black to the back
of the bus please”)… not “Canadian” enough to be televised…. and
February is Black History month in Canada!

Read Vancouver Sun Pete McMartin's review of the opening ceremonieshttp

The Closing Ceremonies were promised to include more French content,
and to feature Canadian humour and myth-busting of Canadian stereotypes.

Vancouver's cultural diversity was represented in the hundreds of
jumping Grade 9ers holding snowboards in the opening sequence.  My
First Nations 2nd cousin was there – his mother was very proud.  But
all the featured performers were White – with the exception of K-OS. 
And most of the volunteer performers of colour were dressed as hip-hop
dancers, instead mounties, lumberjacks and hockey players.  Because
there are no Asian hockey players in the NHL – but that's another
Canadian Myth that's been busted since Larry Kwong played one game in
the NHL in 1948, 10 years before Willie O'Ree became the first black
hockey player in 1958.

A Few days later the same Pete McMartin quoted Tung Chan in an opinion piece –
Opinion – An Olympic Games as white as snow

But read the comments to the above piece, or to Craig Takeuchi's pieces in the Georgia Straight.
2010 Olympic closing ceremony: Why wasn't there any aboriginal content?

Vancouver 2010 Olympics: The Great White, er, Multicultural North?

Despite all the crowd cheering, street filling patriotism, when Canada
wins a gold medal hockey game, there is still a dark anonymous racism
that haunts all the internet comments, and rears its head at any hint
of “affirmative action” or ethnic inclusion.

This is the next story.   This is the next stage of insight. 

The aim of the Closing ceremonies was to have some fun, poking fun at
Canadian stereotypes, and doing some “myth busting.”  But one of the
myths that got reinforced is that Canada is White.  Despite generations
of immigration from all around the world, Canada cannot find a
performer of colour good enough to speak at or perform at and during
the Closing ceremonies. 

Would it have hurt Canadians if one of the chorus line lumberjacks,
mounties, or hockey players had been a shade of colour other than
white?  Would we have heard a chorus of boos, if one of the mounties
had worn a turban?

We know that racial discrimination in sports can be cruel to kids growing up, so it can't be
a wonder why our top athletes are mostly White.  But we have succeeded in
the Arts.

Where was Indo-Canadian comedian Russell Peters?
Canadians of multi-ethnicity are cool and sexy.  What better examples
do we have than actors Kristin Kreuk of Smallville?  or Lisa Ray of
Bollywood?  Even Keanu Reeves primarily grew up in Toronto, despite
being born in Lebanon – but we didn't hold Steve Nash's birthplace of
South Africa against him.

First Nations actors Graham Green and Tantoo Cardinal were good enough
for “Dances with Wolves” but not for the Closing Ceremonies?  And
Tantoo just received her Order of Canada too…

Our authors Joy Kogawa, Thomas King are amongst the most studied
authors in our Canadian high schools, colleges and universities. Wayson Choy and 7th generation descendant of Black Loyalists
George Elliot Clarke are also amongst our most loved – these four authors also are Order of Canada recipients.

We are not saying that Canada should enforce racial inclusivity
guidelines for its sports teams.  But we are saying that the closing
ceremonies lacked the representation of Canada's population, and it
reinforced every sad stereotype of Canada.  Alongside the Mounties,
lumberjacks, beavers and moose was the sad realization that Canada is
only populated by White people, despite multi-generations of accepting
people from all over the world.

And where are the bagpipes?

Canada's first Prime Minister, BC's first Premier, and Vancouver's
first mayor were all born in Scotland.  Has the former largest ethnic
group of Vancouver so much assimilated into mainstream culture, that
they have forgotten their ethnic roots?

The SFU Pipes and Drums is the six time and current World Champion pipe
band.  There are more bagpipers in Canada then there are in Scotland –
or is this a Canadian myth that we are not proud of?

Bagpipers have performed with Uzume Taiko, and Delhi 2 Dublin, – two
internationally recognized examples of cultural fusion music happening
in Vancouver.  To me, these are the examples of performers that should
have been featured at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, demonstrating
how Canadians have come from all over the world, put aside our racial
differences, and blend our cultures, and our shared our histories

This is the Canada that I am proud of – not the beer swigging garage
band party music that was featured – without any relevance to the
historic Olympic successes that we witnessed over the past 17 days