January 28, 2016, by Jason Feehily
12th Chinese New Year Celebrations at Nottingham Lakeside Arts
The history of our involvement in these events goes back to 2004 when Broxtowe Borough Council organised an event in Beeston Square through their Community Cohesion Group which proved so popular that they invited the University and the City Council to join them the following year and make the event even bigger.
2005 was in fact perfect timing for the University since it coincided with the first year of operation of the University of Nottingham in China. In that first year we organised a small outdoor stage, and involved a number of local groups and artists, and Chinese New Year celebrations began with The Year of the Rooster! Since then things have grown and developed dramatically to become a major event in the city’s annual arts calendar.
In 2007, I was invited to join an Arts Council delegation visit to Chongqing and Chengdu; it was on that visit that I came across a wonderful Chinese choreographer – Rong Tao – who was working with young dancers, many recruited from his University dance programme at the Meishi Film Academy – and who presented us with a lovely performance in his studio space. I found out what I could about Rong Tao – and discovered he was well-known in China and was one of the few dancers to have worked with both the celebrated Beijing and Guangdong Modern Dance Companies. I knew at once that this was an artist that I would like to invite to work with us in Nottingham, and since then Rong Tao has worked with professional, schools and community artists on five occasions 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015 and now again in 2016. Tao brings an amazing ability to communicate through dance his belief in the power of art to engage people, to move people (both physically and emotionally) and to share with everyone he meets his belief in everyone’s ability to dance. In recent years we have extended Tao’s residency to include colleagues in Loughborough through Kevin Ryan and Charnwood Arts, and we’re delighted to have Kevin’s support in this programme. Tao has made many friends during his residencies here amongst the professional performing communities, but perhaps one of the outcomes of which I am most especially proud is that it was after we introduced Rong Tao to young people with learning disabilities here at the award-winning Oak Field School under the
leadership of David Stewart, that he began to work with young adults with learning disabilities in China too. In 2016 we have further extended Tao’s network to include Push Dance Company at Beeston, another group focusing on adults with learning disabilities, alongside work with New College Nottingham, and students from the University.
Nottingham-based artist Ling Peng has been involved in CNY at Lakeside since we first began the programme, and she has generously given of her time and her considerable energy to support initiatives not only at Lakeside but across the city in Nottingham Schools, and particularly in Broxtowe and Gedling. A child prodigy performer, she was the youngest student ever to be awarded a place to develop her skills with the Erhu at the celebrated Sichuan Conservatoire. Her skills go well beyond her musical talents which include teaching, composing and performing, and I can tell you from experience that she knows how to make some especially tasty Chinese dumplings!
In 2016 we are delighted to welcome another Chinese resident artist Jiang Hongsheng – Jack. When a group of NLA Senior Team and I visited China last year we were advised by a member of staff at the UNNC campus, David Walker, to make a point of meeting a brush painter and calligrapher called Jiang Hongsheng based in the Ningbo Library. This meeting took place, and it was the beginning of another new and wonderful relationship. Jack set up his Academy – The Red Peony Academy www.redpeonyacademy.com – after 22 years of working as a teacher, and also studying under the master Yu Yiqing. His aim is to teach international visitors to China about the culture of China through the arts of brush painting and calligraphy. During his residency in Nottingham, he has already visited a number of primary schools, and is running a series of workshops here in his artist in residence studio which are open to the general public as well as University students and staff. Jack has had a presence in the Wallner Gallery since he arrived, and he has regularly met and talked to Nottingham Lakeside Arts visitors walking through the gallery and admiring his paintings, as a result of which his brush painting sessions have been so popular that they have sold out and we’ve already had to organise another 3!
Many partners contribute to the success of Chinese New Year across the city, and thanks are due to Broxtowe Borough Council; Gedling Borough Council; Nottingham City; Nottingham Confucius; Asia Business Centre, and Chinese Students and Scholars Association.
To find out more about the CNY programme, go on-line at www.lakesidearts.org.uk or pick up a CNY brochure
Director Nottingham Lakeside Arts
University of Nottingham