BY KATHY BARATTA
MANALAPAN – The second annual Asian Heritage Festival will be held May 5 from 1-5 p.m. at Manalapan High School, Church Lane, off Tennent Road.
Presented by the Manalapan Arts Council (MAC) under the auspices of the Manalapan Recreation Department, the festival will celebrate all Asian cultures and feature cultural exhibition booths that will demonstrate Chinese opera face painting, Chinese brush painting, Japanese origami, Chinese paper cutting, Chinese knotting and “Make a Chinese Name” bookmark.
A hand puppet group will perform excerpts from the famous folk tale “Journey to the West – The Monkey King” in the exhibition area.
Live performances by representatives of four Chinese schools will take center stage to perform the traditional Dance with the Dragon, Lion Dance, and drum dance.
According to Judith Drucker, one of the event organizers, the MAC is comprised of a diverse group of citizens with an active interest in the arts.
“They are dedicated to enriching the culture and economy of western Monmouth County by developing a greater awareness of and respect for excellence in and access to the creative arts in the community,” she said. “Cultural traditions create opportunities for family gatherings, joyous music and preparing of specialty foods all while setting the stage for generational story-telling. Manalapan is creating its own tradition with the second annual Asian Heritage Festival.”
Drucker said the main stage will feature professional performers in full regalia working to captivate the crowd with traditional drum dancing as well as the Lion and Dragon dances.
Drucker explained that the Lion Dance originated in China almost one thousand years ago and is a significant cultural practice in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Okinawa, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, with each region possessing its own style. The lion is regarded as a guardian creature bringing good fortune and ridding the premises of evil spirits.
According to Drucker, in Asian cultures the familiar Dragon Dance is the most recognizable performance art as it features a long, serpentine colorful dragon twisting and turning with the help of more than 10 performers. Originating in China more than 1,800 years ago, the respected and revered dragon symbolizes auspiciousness, abundance, good health and prosperity to every human on earth. Performed to the steady beat of drums, bringing the dragon to life calls on the skill, agility, dedication and team mentality of the group to effectively make it twist across the stage.
“It is a sight to experience and remember for a lifetime,” she said.
Artists representing several Asian countries will be on hand to demonstrate various art forms. Internationally acclaimed opera artists will perform and demonstrate opera face painting; others will offer hands-on opportunities to try Japanese origami, Chinese paper cutting and decorative knot tying, Chinese name bookmarks and Asian brush painting.
Drucker said the puppet show depicting the folk tale “Journey to the West – The Monkey King” “always captivates audiences while passing along a valuable, take-home moral lesson.”
Opera singers Jenny Jia and Ming Yuan Ho and East Brunswick-based Wang Da Chung Hand Puppet group will also perform in the cultural exhibition.
Drucker said Manalapan joins the nation in recognition of May as Asian Pacific Heritage Month.
According to Drucker, initially introduced by Congress in 1977 as a 10-day event, the celebration of Asian-Pacific heritage was expanded to a month-long national celebration by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States in 1843.
“The second annual Asian Heritage Festival will be a cultural extravaganza. In step with the mission of the Manalapan Arts Council, cultural diversity is all around us in our country. Let us try and experience the goodness that each has to offer as a community,” Drucker said.
The Jersey Shore Chinese School in Holmdel and the Fidelity, Huaxia and Monmouth Chinese schools in Marlboro are supporting the event through student and parent participation.
Refreshments will be available during the day. Admission to the Asian Heritage Festival is free and open to all members of the public. Donations to the Manalapan Arts Council are appreciated so that more events can be provided to enrich the community.