The Pacific Cinderella Experience: Innovative Art Production and In-Depth Cultural Exchange
Recognized as one of the premier public arts high school in America, the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) offers a specialized program combining college-preparatory academic instruction and conservatory-style training in the visual and performing arts. LACHSA is also routinely identified as one of "America's Best High Schools" by Newsweek Magazine and is a UCLA Confucius Institute-affiliated a Confucius Classroom.
Pacific Cinderella is a collaboration between the Confucius Classroom at the Los Angeles High School for the Arts (LACHSA) and its partner school in China – Hangzhou Arts School. This project is a good example of a successful artistic endeavor and in-depth culture exchange. Developed by faculty from both schools, the production wove together the stories of Cinderella and China’s Ye Xian (叶限). Using music, dance, poetry, dialogue, and visual image–both traditional and modern forms—Pacific Cinderella explored the commonalities between young artists in China and American, and the differences and similarities in the modes of creative expression that they use. This bilingual production debuted in Hangzhou in Nov. 2013.
The UCLA Confucius Institute supported Pacific Cinderella in several ways including: 1) connecting LACHSA to an appropriate partner school in China, 2) facilitating faculty and student exchange, 3) providing translation and language coaching, 3) video documentation of the project, 4) bringing UCLA and community-based arts resources, and 5) helping to start a permanent Mandarin language program at the school.
The inspiration for Pacific Cinderella came through comparative literary analysis. Scholars have long been aware of similarities between the Tang Dynasty story of Ye Xian and the Brothers Grimm’s fable, Cinderella. Although currently no direct evidence exists linking the stories, through the plot and dramatic characters, we can see important similarities and differences in the Eastern and Western cultures. Pacific Cinderella was created from the two stories, and reflects the different creative approaches of the two production teams.
Pacific Cinderella is not simply a presentation of two stories on a common stage revealing culture differences and similarities but rather a program employing traditional narratives and varied times/spaces that reflect the challenges faced by young people in pursuit of their dreams. Pacific Cinderella is a creative product developed from meaningful culture exchange.
The collaboration process is an example of in-depth cultural communication for two reasons. First, the Chinese and American partners came to this cross-culture exchange program with unique views and approaches to art-making. When creative differences appeared, they utilized their experience and knowledge to communicate and reach an agreement through understanding and compromise. It ensured the continuation of the production. This project provided both sides an opportunity to learn the importance of successful cross-culture communication and creative compromise. Second, both schools are professional arts schools. The school leaders had the chance to exchange educational strategies on teaching the arts and shared experiences on daily school administration. Lastly, with support from Hanban students from both schools met in Hangzhou and spent a week rehearsing and performing. They worked hard together and formed good friendships; many became emotional when they parted. Positive communication between the younger generation of Chinese and Americans will help secure a strong foundation for positive relations in the future.