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Unique Chinese dancers tour Utah landscape during visit for International Days

SHARE Unique Chinese dancers tour Utah landscape during visit for International Days

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah — Clearly, the boys in the audience at Daybreak Elementary School thought the Chinese warriors were cool.

They oohed when the lead dancer put his leg straight up and behind his head. They applauded when the men ferociously pounded the stage floor.

They also liked the throat singers — young Mongolian men who could make low, husky, gutteral noises that came off as songs of the ages.

The girls seated cross-legged for 45 minutes on the gymnasium floor liked the swaying silk-garbed and bejeweled women who danced in the colors of the sky and sang with sweet, haunting voices.

The Chinese folk dance troupe "Wulan Muqi" had clearly come to town as part of the South Jordan International Days event.

Sponsored by the Chinese government, the troupe represents the best the country has to offer in cultural and musical tradition. They came to Utah to attend three city festivals and share their unique show, "Songs of the Grasslands," which tells stories about inner Mongolia and the nomadic life of the people there.

John Vawdrey, a former LDS missionary who helps translate for the troupe, said the dress, the costumes, the music — which includes an unusual horse head fiddle and a python skin mandolin — are all different from any other region in China.

"They don't want to lose the heritage, the history," Vawdrey said.

The troupe's director, Zhang Ning Li, said this is the troupe's first visit to the United States. As such, Li brought only the finest Chinese dancers with him, dancers who are highly paid, by Mongolian standards, for their talent.

Li said a qualified dancer is someone who auditions with a love of his or her culture evident in his or her performance.

Although the group is in town to perform for International Days this weekend, they are filling the days by performing at a number of venues during their three-week visit and seeing the sights as well, including a visit to Temple Square and the Riverton Family History Center, where they are able to research their own family heritage. They plan to attend the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's rehearsal and Sunday morning broadcast this weekend.

In addition, many of the host families who are opening up their homes to the 28 dancers and their entourage are taking their Chinese visitors to all sorts of local haunts. Several toured Yellowstone National Park, while others, from the back seats in the LDS Tabernacle, heard a pin drop at the pulpit. The whole group toured Kennecott's copper mine.

"It was magnificent," Li said, adding that Utah appears to be "very green" compared to his native land.

Exposure to the Mormon religion is limited in China, with the government strictly enforcing a "no proselyting" rule in mainland China, said Merina Lin, a Taiwanese LDS convert who served as a translator for the group.

Lin said the visit to the family history center would be interesting to the Chinese because although they value genealogy, records have only been kept on the Chinese males and mostly of royalty.

"We know our family history but what is very typical of Chinese is that only the eldest son gets the genealogy book," Lin said.

Events featuring the Chinese dancers as well as groups from the Czech Republic, Nepal and Chile continue through Saturday, in South Jordan.

e-mail: haddoc@desnews.com