By Alena Skodova Last week, the experimental Archa theatre in Prague organized a very special event to welcome the Chinese New Year, the Year of Horse, which began on February 11th. On that day two and a half billion people in China and East Asia welcomed in the new year. It's a spring holiday, a kind of combination of European Christmas and New Year's celebrations. It is a time of year when most families get together and many people travel long distances to be with their nearest and dearest.

Years in China are counted according to the lunar calendar, and each year has a name of a sign from the Chinese zodiac. On February 11th , the Year of the Snake ended and the Year of the Horse began.

The main star of the special show at the Archa theatre was the Chinese artist, Fen-Yun Song, who has lived in Prague since 1985. Besides being an outstanding singer, she is also a doctor of comparative linguistics. She explained to me what the celebration would look like: As I said, Fen-Yun recorded her second CD, Mountain Caravan, with Czech musicians. One of them was violinist Helena Vedralova. She and her husband Jiri devote themselves primarily to Moravian folk music, so I asked Mrs. Vedralova how come they had accompanied a Chinese singer and played oriental music?

"Me and my husband have been doing renditions of Wallachian and Czech folk songs. I was born in Wallachia, a region in the north-East of the Czech Republic, and although we now live in Bohemia, I have deep roots in my home region. The region inspires me a lot. When Sen-Yun came to us and asked for our cooperation, we felt that Chinese folk songs were equally important to her. We also devote ourselves to folk music, so we immediately got very enthusiastic about the project."

Mrs. Vedralova explained to me that first they let themselves be inspired only by the melodies of Chinese folk songs. Fen-Yun gave them a demo featuring only her voice. It was quite difficult to listen to, because to European people Chinese music at first hearing all sounds the same, said Mrs Vedralova. But, she explained, as is often the case the very moment she started to look into Chinese folk songs more thoroughly, she was invited to a lecture given by three sinologists. They showed slides from China and explained that people there often visit tea-houses where music is played all day long. Mrs. Vedralova also saw several Chinese films featuring traditional Chinese music. Those two facts helped her to understand Fen-Yun's songs a lot better.

The CD Mountain Caravan is just about to be released, and it has already received a very favourable review in Canada. It was released by the Black Point Music record company, and if you like oriental music, it might be your cup of tea. Composer and lyricist Janek Ledecky, the author of a successful Czech musical version of Hamlet, is preparing to present the musical in the United States. On April 17th, Hamlet will be performed in a concert version in a theatre called Off-off-Broadway in New Jersey by American artists. Janek Ledecky, who plays Hamlet in his own musical, said his journey to America was the result of an invitation by Off-off-Broadway's director Vince Parillo, who visited Prague some time ago on the recommendation of one of his students. He saw Hamlet in Prague three times, and it appealed to him so much that he himself started working on the American version. Mr. Ledecky will be present at the performance in New Jersey, to see American artists, who were chosen from a casting list in New York. The performance is to be presented to American theatre producers. But Hamlet might travel a lot more, because contracts are also to be signed with Brazil, Ukraine and Russia.