Chinese opera performers bridge language and time

College students from Taiwan bridged language and time as they performed a 600-year-old traditional Chinese Opera tale of young love before a rapt audience of children and teens at Stepping Stones Center for children and adults with disabilities in Indian Hill.

The performance was part of an outreach effort by the National Taiwan College of Performing Arts, which was on a cultural exchange visit in November at the Miami University theater department. The students gave performances and workshops at Miami University and performed at 30 schools from Columbus to Cincinnati.

The performance at Stepping Stones Center was one of three stops in Cincinnati. Other performances were at Sycamore High School and Winton Woods School.

Chinese Opera performer Shih-Ya Huang, left, flashes a peace sign, as Ting-An Tung, in blue, hugs Brendan Voellger in his Chinese vest.
The Stepping Stones audience included elementary and high school students with severe autism and preschoolers and adults with disabilities including autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and an array of physical and intellectual disabilities. Many of the Stepping Stones participants have communication challenges, but the performers bridged those barriers with a combination of music and movement.

The performers sang in Chinese, but their expressive movements conveyed the story of a young farm girl who can’t decide whether to pick up a jade bracelet that her suiter has dropped for her, or to ignore it and rebuff him. The 20-minute performance drew laughs and applause as audience members recognized the emotions and cheered the young lovers.

Perhaps their biggest fan was 10-year-old Brendan Voellger, who has autism, uses a choclear implant to help process sounds, and uses sign language.

“Brendan usually has difficulty with communication, but they were speaking Chinese and he followed everything,” said his teacher, Deb Alexander of Deer Park. As audience members lined up to thank the performers, Brendan gave Ting-An Tung an enthusiastic hug and signed his appreciation with “I love you” in American Sign Language for the Deaf.

She responded with “I Love You” in Universal Sign Language and presented the young boy with a brocade vest as a gift. The two traded signs, speaking with hands and hearts instead of words.

“Sign language really is the international language,” said Alexander.

Stepping Stones Center is a 47-year-old United Way partner agency serving close to 1,000 children and adults with disabilities in programs including preschool, autism alternative education, adult programs, summer day and residential camps, Saturday Kids Club programming and respite weekends for children and adults.

Stepping Stones has locations in Batavia and Indian Hill. Information on programs and tours is available at or (513) 831-4660.