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Jacksonville celebrates Chinese New Year this weekend

Red envelopes of “lucky money” are more than traditional Lunar New Year symbols for Calvin Kai Ku.

Featured in Kai Ku’s “Lunar Illusions” show, red envelopes will fly through the air under the magician’s command. In his debut at Southern Oregon’s Chinese New Year Celebration, Kai Ku promises to mystify audiences with enigmatic flames, entertain them with comedic monologues, impress them with acrobatics and enchant them with the spirit of China’s ancient annual festival.

“I do feel like the wonder of magic is very synonymous to the wonder of the New Year,” says Kai Ku, a 35-year-old San Francisco resident whose family roots are in Hong Kong. “We believe that when we do these things, we’ll magically get good luck.”

Kai Ku’s magic show is one of the headlining events at Saturday’s Year of the Rat festivities in Jacksonville. A full day of activities commences at 10 a.m. with the spectacle of lions, dragons, gongs, drums and community groups parading down California Street in the company of “The Mighty One,” a 61-foot dragon that emerged from years of hibernation to appear at last year’s celebration. Formerly a star of Lunar New Year events in California’s Bay Area, the dragon was a gift to the Southern Oregon Chinese Cultural Association from Oakland’s Chinese American Community Foundation.

Dragon jump houses on the grounds of Jacksonville City Hall, 206 N. Fifth St., are a favorite kids’ activity, along with games and such arts and crafts as lantern building and face painting at the IOOF Hall, 175 S. Oregon St. Children’s activities run from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

All-ages presentations and demonstrations are planned from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Music by Who’s Hu on the lute, bamboo flute, two-string fiddle and Tibetan horn will fill the U.S. Hotel Ballroom with Chinese songs from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The second-floor venue at 125 E. California St. also hosts a Southern Oregon Historical Society exhibit showing early Chinese migrants at their work, some photographed by prominent Jacksonville settler Peter Britt.

The art of traditional brush calligraphy is the topic of a talk and demonstration from noon to 2 p.m. at Elan Gallery and Suites, 245 W. Main St. Author Fuyou Long will explain how the style of one’s calligraphy is thought to reveal one’s personality.

Physical, mental and emotional health throughout the seasons is the focus of “Chinese Medicine’s Five Dimensions of Wellness,” from

11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Jacksonville Public Library’s Naversen Room, 340 W. C St. Local Chinese medicine practitioner Suzanne Sky also will highlight herbs, essential oils and nutrients to support respiratory and immune health.

Gentle exercises to tone the body and relax the mind are offered from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Jacksonville Community Center, 160 E. Main St. Tai chi is an ancient and popular Chinese practice for men and women of any age, incorporating balance, breathing and slow movements of the entire body.

Lectures also are slated from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on the subjects of Chinese astrology, archaeological discoveries on local Chinese mining sites and the preservation of some sites within a 16-mile woodland trail system. See soccachinesenewyear.org for locations and more information.

The celebration culminates in Kai Ku’s 2 p.m. show at the Bigham Knoll Ballroom, 525 Bigham Knoll Drive. Tickets are $5, available at the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Information Center (next to the post office) and Rebel Heart Books, 157 W. California St., or at the door, if available. Previous years’ magic shows have drawn a “packed house,” says Debra Lee, SOCCA president.

Magic is a spectacle that generations of Chinese people have enjoyed, says Kai Ku, explaining that linked rings he uses in his show represent links to family and the past.

“I tell a lot of stories through the magic.”

Kai Ku traces his personal interest in illusions to a deck of cards advertised to do 101 tricks, purchased when he was a kid. Kai Ku immersed himself more deeply in magic once he attained college age, attended a circus-arts school and met professional magicians in San Francisco.

“It was just so much fun making things look like you have special powers,” he says.

Characterizing his as a “very classic magic routine,” Kai Ku says he also brings in physical comedy and other circus-style elements. The humor, sense of nostalgia and suspended belief, he says, provides audiences with a welcome escape from day-to-day routines.

“I come from a clowning background,” he says. “I just really love the power of laughter.

“If I can get people to laugh, that’s the ultimate trick.”

Calvin Kai Ku will perform a variety of magic tricks during his “Lunar Illusions” show Saturday, Feb. 8.{ }{ }Photo by Cathy Breslow / Breslow Imaging