The young male performers from the nonprofit Chinese Folk Art Workshop rested as their female counterparts carefully helped one another apply foundation, eye shadow and blush backstage at Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School. It was Sunday afternoon, and the 32 teen-aged artists from Boston would soon take the stage as the centerpiece of this weekend’s Far East Festival.
St. Thomas residents Angel Ventura and Christina Jackson, of the Pearls in Paradise event-management company, said they co-organized the festival as a way to bring Chinese, Taiwanese and Japanese culture to Virgin Island residents.
Lithe, agile and well-spoken, the workshop performers said they are all public school students who participate in the program outside of their school commitments. Most often, Workshop Director Kun Chang said, the young men and women represent their family’s first generation of American-born Chinese (also known as “ABC’s,” Chun said).
Skilled in traditional drumming, dancing and Chinese yo-yo techniques, they arrived Thursday on St. Thomas ready for a weekend of work. By Sunday, it was clear they had also managed to see enough of the island to form a positive impression of its people and culture.
“The culture is very different – it’s very neat to see,” dancer Rachel Wang said.
“People are so friendly here,” piped in high school senior Annie Kuan.
The festival was supposed to take place at Antilles School, but the location was changed because that school’s auditorium could not provide total darkness for the several workshop acts that required it, Chang said.
The change did not seem to matter to audience members, many of them children who squealed when costumed approximations of Hello Kitty and Kung Fu Panda graced the stage and offered up hugs. Nor did the location shift appear to disrupt local performers such as Allan Buckingham, who demonstrated poetic tai chi techniques before the workshop’s show.
The workshop artists thrilled the crowd with a professional performance that juxtaposed traditionally masculine drumming, dragon puppetry and martial arts with more feminine fan dancing, ribbon dancing and exquisite silk costumes.
It seemed likely that the workshop dancers might some day be back in the territory – if only for a respite from Boston’s chilly winters, if not a repeat performance of their crowd-pleasing show.
“Walking onto the beach, it’s like seeing something so picturesque,” Rachel Wang said.
As they collectively bemoaned returning to a hometown besieged by rain and 30-degree temperatures, they said St. Thomas was indeed paradise by comparison.
To learn more about the Chinese Folk Art Workshop, visit www.folkartboston.org