Saturday, Oct. 2, the Chinese Student Organization celebrated the Harvest Moon Festival in Sadler Center’s Commonwealth Auditorium with a performance that blended tradition and modernity: “Yue and the Immortality Elixir.”
The Harvest Moon Festival is a traditional Chinese celebration that falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month. Like many festivals in all cultures, this is a time for celebrating and feasting with family and friends. In keeping with this spirit, the performance was catered by Peter Chang, a local Chinese restaurant, and both performers and attendees feasted after the show.
The show itself was a combination of the traditional Chinese folk tale of Chang’E (嫦娥奔月) and the much more modern animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
When asked what inspired them to combine these elements, co-culture chair Tj-Yuxin Song ’23 said it came down to relatability.
“This is the first thing we’ve done in … almost two years now, and so we really just wanted to keep in the traditional elements, so like talk about Harvest Moon and how important Harvest Moon is, while still making it really fun and funny too, and more relatable too,” Song said.
The show was able to balance telling the traditional story with the “Avatar” setting and characters, as well as weaving in some modern-day concepts. In a scene relatable to many children with immigrant parents, Yue and her father argue over her life path ─ what she wants to do versus what he wants her to do, and the age-old immigrant parent comment: “I sacrificed so much to get you a better life.” Moments like these were peppered throughout the show, and were always met with laughter and applause.
The story of Chang’E was also excellently woven into the more well-known elements from “Avatar,” creating a very accessible format for learning and understanding the story. The story was told through the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” plotline of Yue becoming the moon to save her people ─ a direct parallel to the story of Chang’E. Interspersed with the acting were beautiful dances, one representing the earth kingdom and the kyoshi warriors done with fans, and a more modern dance for the fire kingdom.
These were co-choreographed by CSO president Irene Liu ’23 and Olivia Yu ’23, who is also a member of the Zodiac dance crew.
The dance breaks were a favorite for Chris Jiang ’24, who played Sokka, who also happens to be his favorite “Avatar” character. Jiang’s favorite scene to act was when he killed the Fire Nation dancers by banging the ground with a boomerang. He also explained that that scene was not originally scripted into the performance and was only added in the day before. Not only would the audience never have guessed that it was a last-minute addition, it was a perfect one, heightening the drama of the show and providing the perfect ending to the dance.
Jiang explained that he was initially hesitant to perform, but after the encouragement of fellow CSO members, decided to give it a try.
“At first I was actually kind of hesitant to join,” Jiang said. “My only acting experience has been the sixth grade play, but then I ended up talking to one of the executive members about it and that’s what kind of sealed the deal. I guess I’ve always been described as kind of a Sokka in real life.”
In a full circle moment, Liu herself first got involved in the CSO through the Harvest Moon Festival her freshman year and that she and her friends participated in the dances together.
“CSO holds a special place in my heart,” Liu said. “Meeting the people that I did got me into the organization, and now I’m on the executive board!”
Brian Wu ’22, who played fire nation prince Zuko, remarks on his favorite scene to perform in the show. This scene also happened to be a crowd pleaser.
“The one where I blush at Mai, it was an interesting scene,” Wu said. “I’m glad the audience seemed like they laughed at it, I was happy to amuse them.”
Wu also explored his passion for acting by playing a villain in the show.
“I love acting, it’s just something I have fun with,” Wu said. “Being able to play different characters and playing Zuko was interesting. I’m usually not playing the bad guy, but it was nice playing a hardcore villain.”
Sean Nguyen ‘25, who has never seen Avatar, said one of his favorite parts of the show was watching his hallmate Elijah Tsai ’25, who played Appa. Appa is the flying bison from the show and was a fan favorite of the crowd.
Nguyen also commented about what drew him to this performance and why performances like these are important to campus and society as a whole.
“Asian-American culture and representation is so valuable to the 21st century as we’re trying to progress forwards in society” Nguyen said. “That representation shone through in a spotlight through Avatar, it really shines and highlights the power of our collective cultures.”
This festival celebration showed the power in community and coming together with friends — the very reason that it is traditionally celebrated. It also held open a doorway for new friends, providing a wonderful opportunity for students outside the CSO to learn a little bit about a new culture and hopefully gain some appreciation for both the culture and the talents of the members. The CSO put on a fantastic show with an equally fantastic post-show atmosphere.
Correction 10/12/21: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Olivia Yu is the president of the Chinese Student Organization for the 2021-2022 academic year, Irene Liu is the president of the CSO for the 2021-2022 academic year.