The celebration of the holiday season continues in full force this weekend as the folks at the Kennedy Center invite all families to join them for three days chock-full of free activities and performances to herald the Lunar New Year.

“The celebration is designed to present key elements of the Chinese culture with arts and crafts that will engage children. It is important for children to have an opportunity to learn about and embrace other cultures, because the more we know about each other, the more we can appreciate one another and the more likely we are to be at peace,” said Alicia Adams, Vice President of Dance and International Programming.

Festivities begin tonight with a performance of the Guangdong National Orchestra Ensemble, featuring folk music of the province in Southeastern China and introducing a bevy of traditional instruments. The audience will notice the unique appearance of string instruments, such as the pipa, erhu, daruan and gaohu—some plucked and others played with a bow—as well as a sound that is much different from Western music.

“Chinese music incorporates a pentatonic scale and has a much higher sound, like that of an opera voice,” said Adams. “Originally, these performances took place outdoors where there were many, many people, so the higher the voice the more people it could reach.”

The fascinating celebration expands on Friday, featuring the Guangdong Arts Troupe with performances by the world-class Guangzhou Acrobatic Troupe, the Guangzhou Cantonese Theater, the Guangzhou Song & Dance troupe and the Guangdong Puppet Theater.

“I have been in the province and witnessed the acrobats training firsthand,” said Adams. “They start at a very young age—just 8 or 10—and continue for years in a rigorous program, qualifying for selection in the troupe by virtue of the flexibility of their body.”

The acrobats’ skills include not only incredible contortions, flips and airborne somersaults but also awe-inspiring balancing feats and formations that defy gravity.

The three-day free festival climaxes on Saturday with the Kennedy Center’s Family Day, offering a spectrum of hands-on crafts and activities for children, including face painting, making take-home opera masks and red lanterns, and coloring images heralding the Year of the Pig. The day will also include the theatrical Lion Dance and the Dragon Dance that will snake through the crowd.

Visitors will have an opportunity to try their hand at manipulating marionette puppets and can view a demonstration of the time-honored art of calligraphy. Throughout the day, musicians, puppeteers and contortionists will return for short performances with samples of their unique talents. Guests can also explore an exhibit of traditional Cantonese opera costumes and can even try one on for a memorable photo-op.

In addition to the free Lunar New Year activities and performances, the festival will also present performances of the classic “Raise the Red Lantern” by the acclaimed, award-winning National Ballet of China. The production, based on the 1991 film by director Zhang Yimou, will be accompanied by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, guest musicians and accentuated by shadow puppetry. Ticket prices for the performances start at $39.

“For many families, the Kennedy Center’s Lunar New Year celebration has become a cherished tradition, and they come back year after year. For those attending for the first time, it can serve as a wonderful introduction to the Center and its offerings, including free performances that are featured on the Millennium Stage every day of the year,” said Adams. “We are pleased to offer this opportunity to engage with a different culture and explore the traditions of a different country and hope that this experience sparks a desire to learn even more.”

Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.

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