Celebrate Chinese New Year with a nasty dragon! (Southern Theater photo)
By Mary Tan
AAP Staff Writer
MINNEAPOLIS — It’s the year of the dragon, so what better way to showcase Chinese culture by taking your family to Tiger Lion Arts’ premier performance of The Dragons are Singing Tonight.
The performance is based on a series of poems about dragons written by United States Children’s Poet Laureate Jack Prelutsky. Composer Laurie MacGregor turned the poems into 16 songs, which feature a unique storyline about an ordinary boy, a magical girl and a very nasty dragon.
MacGregor discovered Prelutsky’s book, The Dragons are Singing Tonight back in 2000 when she happened to be at a Washington, D.C. bookstore. “The poems are about so many kinds of dragons and their human characteristics. It is also about their relationship with people.”
At the time, MacGregor was teaching music at an elementary school in Hanover, NH. She decided to set the book to music and write a song cycle that could be performed by an entire school, with songs for soloists, small groups and singers of all ages. Her childhood friend, a Minneapolis art director, saw MacGregor’s New Hampshire performance and connected MacGregor with Tiger Lion Arts.
Soon that group’s Executive Artistic Director, Markell Kiefer, wanted to turn the songs into a theater production to tie the tunes together to create a story. She immediately knew she wanted to include puppets and circus arts, which is why she invited Puppet Farm Arts and Circus Juventas to join the performance team. On top of all that, the Minnesota Boychoir joined the production as well.
The main parts of the show will be performed by Isabella Dawis and Maxwell Thao. Dawis plays the character of the girl, who is the narrator of the tale.
“The narrative carries a message about learning to embrace every part of yourself and it’s really just magical,” the actor said recently.
Dawis is a junior at the University of Minnesota who is majoring in piano performance. The 19 year old was also named as the Star Tribune’s Outstanding Youth Performer in 2004 and 2005.
Thao will play the role of the boy and s a recent graduate of Mankato State University where he just received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in musical theater. Thao says he can’t wait to perform in front of young audiences.
“I love performing for children,” says Thao. “To see their eyes light up is what I live for.”
Since the initial performance started at a school, MacGregor also wanted to make sure the production got exposure at area schools as well. Tiger Lion Arts organizers approached several area schools about a Dragons Performance involving their students. Music teachers at Northport Elementary in the Robbinsdale School District and the Richard R. Green Central Park School in Minneapolis jumped at the opportunity.
MacGregor has been working with both schools since this past fall, where the children are already learning the songs and making dragon puppets. The school performances will take place this spring.
The artists hope the upcoming performances have audiences filled with Asian Americans from all over the metropolitan area. Production manager Julie Steiner says the story has deep meaning in the Chinese culture. “The Chinese associate the dragon with power and wisdom. Because of the respect and reverence of the dragon symbol, the year of the dragon is special.”
Performances in celebration of Chinese New Year will take place Jan. 26 through Feb. 12 at the Southern Theater on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis. Performance times vary and ticket prices run anywhere from $20 to $30.
For more information go to www.TigerLion.org or call 612-343-3390.