Arts & Culture

Tacoma’s Moon Festival brings Chinese opera, Kabuki and more to Chinese Reconciliation Park

Chinese opera and Japanese Kabuki theater are just two of the ways that this Saturday’s Tacoma Moon Festival will celebrate local incarnations of Asian cultures. On for the third time, the annual festival will fill the Chinese Reconciliation Park on Ruston Way with Asian street food, lanterns, sculptures of Chinese zodiac animals made by local artists, music, dance and more.

Modeled after the traditional Moon Festival held for thousands of years in China, the free festival is timed for the large harvest moon, which is at its fullest Tuesday night. The activities include Chinese moon legends and moon cakes (a pastry snack), and a Moon Princess will lead the closing lantern parade in which all can join. There also will be a wine and beer garden, kite-making demonstrations and activities.

But the dramatic action is happening on the main stage, where local groups will perform traditional Chinese opera and Japanese Kabuki theater.

Rose Jang, a professor at The Evergreen State College who lives in Federal Way, is one of the members of the Hwa Sheng Chinese Opera Club based in Seattle, and she’ll be the emcee for the club’s performance at 6:45 p.m.

“We’ll be doing six excerpts from different operas, to give a flavor of Chinese Opera,” Jang says, explaining that it’s difficult to present an entire opera in a noisy, outdoor venue with no way to provide subtitles. Three of the excerpts will be dance solos with fan and sword. They also will have full costume and make-up applied publicly beforehand, so festivalgoers can watch the process.

“That’s always been a highlight,” Jang says.

The other three excerpts of Beijing Opera will feature singing, and one will have traditional Chinese orchestra instruments (the bowed jinghu and erhu, the plucked moon lute and ruan, plus drums, clapper and gong).

The 47-year-old club has performed at every Moon Festival; it’s a rare chance for Tacomans to see a Chinese opera performance, since the group’s shows usually are in Bellevue.

Sharing the stage is the Tacoma Kabuki Academy, fresh from performances at Bellevue’s Aki Matsuri fall festival and performing at Tacoma’s festival for the first time.

“It’ll be all different styles of dancing,” said director Mary Ohno, who founded the academy in 1983 to teach Kabuki, samisen music and classical dancing, and who still performs in Japan.

Kabuki, which began in the 17th century as an upbeat alternative to traditional Noh theater, uses dancing, music and even acrobatics to tell dramatic stories. At the Moon Festival, about a dozen of Ohno’s students will perform both singing, dancing and on samisen, a traditional stringed instrument, including one piece for 10 samisen, with the players in full kimono. Ohno will give explanations between performances.

“I’m sure the whole audience will enjoy it,” she says.