Jacques d’Amboise, New York’s dance educator and founder of the National Dance Institute (NDI), approached the Center with the idea of bringing a large group of Chinese children to New York to participate in NDI’s annual “Event of the Year.” After nearly three years of negotiation, the Center, on behalf of d’Amboise, invited 56 Chinese children to participate in the 1986 “Event of the Year: China Dig.” Since 1986 marked the tenth anniversary of the National Dance Institute, this was a particularly exciting project. D’Amboise traveled to China in 1985 to audition and choose the participating children and to begin to train them in the steps needed for the dance performances. Carolyn George, photographer and d’Amboise’s wife, documented the event on film from beginning to end.
In May 1986, the 56 children, ages 8 to 13, accompanied by 15 adults, including the former deputy mayor of Beijing, Bai Jiefu, spent three weeks in the U.S., traveling to Disneyland in California, Washington, D.C., and New York City. Together with 1,500 American children, the Chinese children danced in the “Event of the Year: China Dig,” on June 1 and 2, in Madison Square Garden. As is a custom with the annual event, d’Amboise invited American celebrities to take part, including Cloris Leachman, who performed a dance called “Phoenix Nest.
Center director Chou Wen-chung composed a twelve-minute piece for dance titled “Beijing Dust”, which is the name of a favorite northern dessert. Chou later changed the title to “Beijing in the Mist.” At the request of d’Amboise, Chou wrote the piece for a large and incongruous collection of instruments from east and west including saxophones, electric guitars and Chinese finger bells and gongs. The performance at Madison Square Garden was conducted by Lee Norton.
- “Hello, ni hao” from NDI’s 1986, Event of the Year: China Dig
- “Dance: 1,500 Children in ‘China Dig‘” New York Times, June 4, 1986.
- Ann B. Silverman, “Schoolchildren from County and China are Joining in Dance” New York Times, May 25, 1986.
- Bill Zakariasen, “They went to the ends of the earth for this show” Daily News, 1986.