Chinese celebration rivets museum

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Xian Na (Sonia) Carlson performs during 'Power and Grace: Sonia Carlson presents Chinese Dance and Culture' at the Nevada State Museum on Saturday.

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Xian Na (Sonia) Carlson performs during 'Power and Grace: Sonia Carlson presents Chinese Dance and Culture' at the Nevada State Museum on Saturday.

The precision of dance could only be matched by the intricacies of traditional costume Saturday afternoon as a celebration of Chinese culture kept an audience of more than 50 enthralled within the confines of the Nevada State Museum.

Some 30 students, led by Xian Na (Sonia) Carlson, entertained and enlightened curious onlookers and brought smiles to the faces of friends and relatives behind whirring camcorders.

Traditional dance, movement and even interpretative readings in Chinese were made possible through the museum and the Nevada Arts Council.

"This is such an important and great event," said Deborah Stevenson, the museum's curator of education. "This is our state's sesquicentennial and it's time to look at all the cultures that make Nevada the state it is.

"The Chinese here have some of the richest and most proud traditions."

Stevenson said the first Chinese workers hired to help complete the Central Pacific Railroad, were hired starting in March 1865. They worked tirelessly in oftentimes oppressive conditions for about $35 a month.

These workers were also able to lay 10 miles of track in a day, Stevenson said.

"That's a record nobody's able to touch ever since," she said. "But the history of Chinese immigrants here goes far, far beyond railroads."

Indeed, as Stevenson swept her gaze around the museum's main floor, Chinese and Chinese-influenced artifacts seemed to crop up among the antique slot machines and vestiges of the Carson Mint.

"You have to look sometimes, but the Chinese culture and the roots of Nevada are intertwined," she said.

The tradition continued Saturday as students like Erik Downer, 13, a seventh grader at Carson Middle School, performed individual readings.

Erik's was about finding a "jian zi," a small feathered ornament, and using it as a Hacky sack. Erik translated his monologue about his new favorite toy into English, saying his discovery "looks like a rooster."

He invited members of the audience to join him on stage and an impromptu game of hacky sack ensued.

"I've taken Chinese for two years," Erik said after his performance. "At some point, school got a little boring and I was interested in the culture and the language - so, here I am."

Michael Marquez, 10, a fifth grader at Gardnerville Elementary School, was dressed as a Chinese Dragon. As he waited for his turn to perform (his appearance on stage would be during the last number of the day), he was circumspect about his introduction to Chinese.

'It's something I've been interested in for awhile," he said. "I just started (learning) Chinese this year, but yeah - I know a little of it."

Bob Carlson, whose wife Sonia leads the group, looked on as his betrothed led volunteers from the audience in a traditional dance. His daughter, Ingrid, 10, stood on stage behind her mother.

"We've been back to China three times," he said. "There's great things about that country.... great things about this one too.

"It's just a neat, neat thing to share the culture - especially in a place like Nevada so rich in it."

• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at or 881-1219.


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