The Year of the Metal Dragon 

The Lily Cai Chinese Dance Ensemble evokes ancient elegance

It’s the year of the Dragon, but please: Abandon all imagery of Bruce Lee kicking ass to the swooshing, slicing soundtrack of arms and legs flying through the unusually thick atmosphere of a kung-fu movie. According to Chinese mythology, 2000 is the year of the Metal Dragon, believed to be the most strong-willed of the Dragons. The Metal Dragon considers honesty and integrity as the superior virtues. Not known for its patience when dealing with the lazy and foolish, the Metal Dragon encourages us to think and act on a large scale.

Enter the Lily Cai Chinese Dance Ensemble of San Francisco, performing this Tuesday as part of the 17th Annual Mansfield Conference. A former principal dancer for the Shanghai Opera House, Cai is now famous for blending traditional Chinese and contemporary American dance forms. A recipient of numerous fellowships, grants and commissions, Cai is considered a major authority of Chinese dance in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This year’s Mansfield Conference addresses world hunger, food security and the shifting impacts of genetic technology in light of the United States’ and Montana’s growing relationships with Asian countries. For the last four years, the Mansfield Center has integrated a fine arts event into its conferences in an effort to reach a larger audience, according to conference coordinator Matthew Watanabe-Taylor.

“The Mansfield Center’s mandate is to inform the public about Asia and lay the seeds of interest in the region,” Taylor says. “The Lily Cai Chinese Dance Ensemble is a perfect opportunity to see and hear a modern vision of Asia.”

All proceeds from the show will go to the Missoula Food Bank and Garden City Harvest/UM’s P.E.A.S. Program, in the spirit of Thanksgiving and the conference’s theme.

In an on-going collaboration with Missoula County Public Schools, the Center also works to introduce students to Asian cultures. In past years, students have made masks that were used as part of a Korean dance recital and participated in an original production about water and its vital role in the lives of all people. This year, students are making food bowls to symbolize the globe and hunger. Select pieces will be sold at Cai’s performance in a silent auction to raise funds for the Poverello Center.

Chinese dance is linked with and reflective of life’s concerns and experiences, including agricultural celebrations of nature and work. Cai progresses in the tradition of China’s “Golden Age,” bringing the ancient Chinese dance forms from the Zhou, T’ang, Qing and Dai Dynasties to the United States and skillfully blending them with post-modern dance to create her signature style. Giving a new twist to the definition of “melting pot,” Cai’s choreography and dance has been praised by critics as “sensual, wistful and extraordinarily beautiful.”

According to the Chinese Farmer’s Calendar, Nov. 21 is a good day to tear down a building. OK, so agri-business is more than a single building. But no one is stopping you from taking on the spirit of the Metal Dragon and picking up the metaphorical sledgehammer in honor of the hungry people in Missoula.
Spend an evening with the Lily Cai Chinese Dance Ensemble, Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. in the University Theatre. Tickets are $5 and FREE to children aged 15 or under, available at the door and at all TIC-IT-EZ locations. For more information on the conference, call 243-2988 or visit the website at

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