It was a cold evening on Friday in Buffalo, the second largest city in the US state of New York, as the temperature dropped down to 2 C after a day of heavy wet snow.
Yet it was as warm as spring in Slee Hall at the University at Buffalo (UB) as a roughly 200 members of the audience applauded and shouted "Bravo!" time and time again during the incredible Amazing Chinese Opera show, performed by US and Chinese artists from the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera (CICO) at Binghamton University.
The event, sponsored by the UB Confucius Institute, was the closing event of the university's International Education Week, an annual initiative to celebrate and promote international education and exchange.
Music and dance
Founded in 2009, CICO is the first such place in the US to offer Chinese Opera lessons through cooperation with the National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts in Beijing, while supplying tools and support for teaching Chinese language and culture.
Barbara Krajewski, 60, a UB biological technician, was among the audience who were wowed by the delicate makeup, exquisite costumes and head wear, tumbling and acrobatic movements of opera performers.
"I have quite a few Chinese friends who I've worked with and they've introduced me to all kinds Chinese cultural events. In fact one took me to Beijing for a vacation, so I'm very fascinated and interested in Chinese culture," Krajewski told the Xinhua news Agency.
"It was fabulous. It's wonderful. The colors, the costuming, the choreographing... it's all wonderful," said Pam Burns, 66, a nearby resident.
"[It's] our first experience and won't be the last."
"It was cool. I like it. It's very abstract. There's a lot of symbolism and I thought it was very bright, like lots of dance fighters," said Joe Sinicki, a self-proclaimed Chinese Opera fan.
Sinicki said he liked the excerpt from the Money Tree, presented by Xu Qiushi and Qi Zhang, the most. The Peking Opera classic describes a love story between a fairy, Zhang Sijie, and an ordinary person, Cui Wenrui. The Jade Emperor in Heaven sends his Heavenly Generals down to the earth to punish her, but Zhang Sijie courageously fights them to protect her.
He also was impressed by the Green Ripples in the Milky Way, which depicts the famous folktale The Cowherd and the Weaving Maid. When the Cowherd and the Weaving Girl meet across the Milky Way, green ripples sing of their everlasting love.
The music for the piece was performed by Zhang Yuming on the stringed-instrument known as guzheng.
"Yeah, the cool instrument, I like it. I think she did really good. I like the way she played with the strings. It needs a lot of circular motion on the strings and so just up and down. It looks more fluid than the guitar," Sinicki said.
Another performance that grabbed the audience's attention was a Chinese bamboo flute piece Flying Partridges, one of the best-known flute pieces in China. The solo piece describes the desolation after the fall of the Yue kingdom more than 2,000 years ago and evokes in people a sense of longing for freedom.
"The bamboo flute actually imitates the cries of different birds and it sounds as if birds were flying overhead into the faraway distance," said Chen Yuxiao, the bamboo flute performer.
"I hope the US audience can get closer to ancient Chinese culture through music, an art form that goes beyond nation boundaries," she said.
Doorway to China
Carrie Feyerabend, one of the performers that night, also served as the Master of Ceremonies for the event in English and perfect Putonghua (Standard Chinese).
Having studied Peking Opera in Beijing, Feyerabend performed the classic The Heavenly Maid Scatters Blossoms.
"She did pretty good. If I didn't see her, I would think she was maybe a Chinese girl," Sinicki said.
Jenna Lenz, an international student services employee at UB's office of international education, viewed the show as a window to have a glimpse at the Chinese culture.
"It's obviously very unique to be able to come and see this. It's a really interesting experience obviously to see something that's so very different, especially from anything in Buffalo obviously," Lenz said.
"For me, this is my first time seeing Chinese opera. So it was a great way to learn a little bit," she said.
Lori Burns, 53, another nearby resident, treated the show as an opportunity to allow her children, who learned a little bit of Chinese and Chinese culture while they went to school in Kentucky, to learn about the programs at the UB Confucius Institute.
"We saw it on the Facebook. When we moved here and we saw that this was happening. We wanted to get involved. We're really excited actually. Our youngest is a dancer and she particularly liked the ribbons and that sort of things. So she said that was pretty cool," Burns said.
"We are hoping that maybe the Confucius institute here will give her an opportunity to learn more, which is a great way for young people in the US to be exposed to different cultures," she added.
The opera show was just one of the six programs celebrating Chinese culture contributed by the UB Confucius Institute to the week-long celebrations from November 12 to 16, said the institute's director Liu Zhiqiang.
In 2018, nearly 5,000 students throughout the Buffalo area studied Chinese language in programs supported by the institute