David Douglas High hosts fabulous Chinese performers

You see their marching band and dance team in the Portland Rose Festival parade every year – now, learn about the fabulous, colorful stage show that only a very few are privileged to attend …

Some of the musicians we meet backstage from Shu-te High School band in Kaohsiung, R.O.C. give us a smile, before going onstage for their show.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The only officially-sanctioned 2008 Portland Rose Festival event that took place east of 82nd Avenue of Roses was a stage performance of the Shu-te High School students from Kaohsiung, R.O.C., at the Horner Performance Arts Center on the David Douglas High School campus this week.

Although each of the three performances on June 9 was given before a standing-room-only audience, we find that very few folks even know this energetic, colorful, and emotionally-moving show took place. We later found out why this event got so little publicity, as we’ll explain — please read on!

David Douglas School District Superintendent Barbara Rommel greets the standing-room-only audience, in the Horner Performing Arts Center on the high school’s campus.

Meeting the band
Before the show, we went backstage with the theater’s manager, Mark Taylor.

In the scenic shop, we stopped to talk with some of the student musicians. Without the aid of an interpreter, our meeting limited to mutual smiles. When we held up the camera, they immediately struck a group pose, as one would expect from teenagers.

In the past, all of the musicians and dancers from Shu-te High School were female. The young ladies pointed out a young man in their midst and said, “We now have one boy playing with us. It is so exciting!”

Dancers warm up before their energetic performance on the stage at David Douglas High School.

Music and movement
After the introduction of representatives from the city and schools of Kaohsiung, the Portland-Kaohsiung Sister City Association, the Portland Rose Festival, and David Douglas School District, the band played and the curtain went up the show – entitled “The Night of Kaohsiung”.

During their music-and-dance number, “The Gorgeous Spring”, the dancers depicted a field of flowers as they opened. Nine acts followed; five of the numbers featured the band only. The fourth presentation featured a spirited drum solo, played by a diminutive young lady with such gusto that the hall reverberated.

Taylor and his crew of David Douglas High theater arts students provided professional, evocative lighting that enhanced every scene.

Dancers perform a work entitled “The Gorgeous Spring”.

Locals host world travelers
“For the past 15 years, student ambassadors from Shu-te High School have been hosted by Portland-area families during their Portland stay,” said the coordinator of the event, Dr. Richard Cole, Ph.D., when we talked with him after the group’s last Portland appearance.

“The reason the event isn’t promoted is that the host families are the focus of the evening performance. If tickets remain, they are distributed to others involved in our ‘sister city’ program,” explained Cole.

Earlier that day, the young visiting entertainers give two performances, before groups of fifth-grade students in the David Douglas School District, Cole said. “Our students were able to gain a first-hand understanding of the music, dance, and celebration enjoyed in China. It is that kind of education that helps promote international understanding.”

In addition to their being invited to this special program, members of several past host families have kept in contact with the girls they hosted; some have traveled to Taiwan to visit them. “This is a wonderful first-hand cultural experience for both the hosts and the girls,” noted Cole.

The Shu-te High School Band plays traditional Chinese instruments, some of them invented thousands of years ago.

Helps provide a world view
Cole has been involved in this unique cultural exchange program since the time he was the Curriculum Coordinator at the school district.

“My wife suggested we go and watch their performance in 1993,” recalled Cole. “I was so taken by the performance, I started coordinating the Host Family program, became a board member, and later president of the Portland-Kaohsiung Sister City Association. Even though I retired in 1995, I’ve been with the organization ever since.”

The one-on-one diplomatic exchange between dignitaries and students from Kaohsiung and Portlanders allows people of diverse cultures to gain an understanding of one another, Cole commented. “Over the years, thousands of young people from China have been introduced to American culture and the kindness of our people. And, we have been enriched by their visits and cultural performances.”

“Rising Winds and Surging Clouds” dance depicts a storm chasing the dragons underground.

Visitors have a full schedule
The reason more performances of the Shu-te High School band and dance troupe aren’t scheduled is that their six-day stay is packed with activities. Other that taking time for a sightseeing trip around the Mt. Hood loop, the students have a full schedule.

“They rehearse for and participate in the Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade,” noted Cole. “Some of the girls take part in the International Friendship Race at the Dragon Boat races. Then, they rehearse, and prepare for their three shows on Monday.”

Dramatic lighting enhance the tightly choreographed dance numbers presented by the troupe.

Calls it a fabulous program
David Douglas School District Superintendent Barbara Rommel talked with us about the educational exchange program.

“We’ve had a long-standing sister-school relationship with Shu-te High,” Rommel said. “The interaction, especially between the host families in the homes where our student guests stay, is a culturally broadening experience.”

In addition to the truly fabulous performance, Rommel added, “It is critically important for our students to have knowledge in other parts of the world. This relationship broadens their appreciation of the arts in another part of the world. It shows us all that people who live in a land distant and different from ours are also caring, talented, and intelligent.”

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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