Metro Weekly

Dragon Boat Racing is ready to dazzle at the Kennedy Center

An epic, culturally resonant Chinese ballet aims to delight American audiences

Dragon Boat Racing

A singular theatrical spectacle of Chinese culture, pageantry, history, and romance, the award-winning dance-drama Dragon Boat Racing arrives at the Kennedy Center for a limited engagement of just four performances. Set during the 1930s Japanese occupation of China, the show depicts two star-crossed lovers, two opposing families, and a nation galvanized by song to resist and overcome their oppressors.

Although the historical backdrop is key to the tale, which was inspired by actual events, the epic’s truest aim is to celebrate the rich cultural expression of Chinese music and dance.

“When we’re talking about Chinese folk dance and Chinese classical dance, [they] actually have a very long history, over 1,000 years,” says Tan Ziqing, deputy director of the China Performing Arts Agency’s Cultural Exchange Division, which is presenting the show to U.S. audiences. “You have some signs of a ballet, gestures, tip-toe movements. But most of [our] original productions have the very typical Chinese styles.”

Dragon Boat Racing

Performed without spoken lines or singing, the lavish piece features a cast of six actors leading the world-renowned 38-person Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble. As Tan describes it, although the production focuses on Chinese national heritage, the story and choreography explore universal values.

“I think the basic idea of the [program] is just to present the Chinese consciousness, particularly through dance, to show our social values, our traditions,” says Tan. “But in general, we view these concepts to show that as human beings we have similarities. Everyone has their love. Everyone has their family values. And everyone cherishes their history. That’s our original purpose for this.”

But it’s not the only purpose. Dragon Boat Racing also is a lush, colorful spectacle about the power of artistic creation. Simply put by Tan, “It’s a love story, but with very beautiful music.”

Dragon Boat Racing runs from February 2-4, at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Tickets are $30 to $110. Call 202-467-4600, or visit

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André Hereford covers arts and entertainment for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @here4andre.

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