A performance Thursday by 51 Chinese nationals showcased the 5,000-year-old ethnic culture of the world's most populous nation and left a Tamaqua audience in awe.

'Colorful China,' now debuting in the United States, captured the imagination, bringing a crowd of 500 to their feet in two standing ovations.

The Tamaqua Area Auditorium hosted the free-to-the public sight and sound extravaganza which was heralded as a world-class performance and lived up to its billing according to those who witnessed it.

Visiting the United States on a Cultural Exchange visa, the performers showcased their talent in a fast-moving show of music, song, dance and fashion that tells the story of the culture and traditions of the People's Republic of China.

The group was presented by the Chinese National Museum of Ethnology and the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United States together with World Artists Experiences.

Not only did the performance evoke rousing applause and standing ovations, but drew raves and superlatives from those on hand.

"It is magnificent to be exposed to this," said Joanne Myers, Tamaqua.

"I think the Chinese culture is colorful and magical," said Sherry Dehart, New Ringgold.

"It's fabulous," said Jean Tonkin, Tamaqua. "This is what Tamaqua needs."

One attendee with first-hand experience of China said the show was special.

"I spent time in China a few years ago but this was so much different from the shows I saw there," said Gail Maholick, a native of Franklin Township.

"This is elaborate," said Paola Basile, on hand with husband Vito and family. The Basiles are natives of Italy.

Betty McGinnis, director, is traveling with the troupe during its U. S. debut.

The event was coordinated locally by Bernadette Griffiths of Hometown, who tackled the job of making sure the international performers were well taken care of in the Schuylkill County community. She took on responsibility for all of the details with not as much as a blueprint to guide her, as nothing of this magnitude had been done previously. Griffiths made sure everything worked to perfection.

"We had a bang-up morning," said Griffiths. It was apparent that the Chinese visitors were having the time of their lives.

"On the way, they stopped and did some shopping in Jim Thorpe," said Griffiths.

The bus then took the group to Tamaqua where they enjoyed lunch at La Dolce Casa restaurant on West Broad Street and then checked out their surroundings.

The daylong rain didn't seem to dampen spirits. Troupe members speak Chinese but interpreters were on hand, including additional guests from Silberline Manufacturing, Hometown, who happened to speak Chinese and served as additional interpreters.

One unexpected highlight of the visit was a stop at Rite-Aid in Tamaqua. The visitors were impressed by the variety of goods and cosmetics and the low prices compared to sticker prices in their native China. For instance, one girl was impressed to see lipstick at 99 cents a tube. She promptly went up to the counter and ordered 200 tubes.

The rare local performance was organized by June Krell-Selgado, formerly of Tamaqua, who serves as director of Cultural Affairs at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Md.

Krell-Selgado teamed up with McGinnis to arrange for the local appearance.

"I do a lot of international events," said Krell-Selgado, who added that international understanding is more important than ever because "the computer has made the world so small."

Griffiths led the crowd in a round of applause for Krell-Selgado, who she said "never forgot where she came from."

Her mother, June Krell, handcrafted 64 burned-wood bears with arms outstretched in an embrace. Each visitor received a bear hug, along with other goodies from the Tamaqua area.

"It was a welcome to Tamaqua," said Krell, who still lives on Penn Street, a stone's throw from the school complex.

Group representative Ray Won Li presented Larry Wittig, school board president, and Chris Morrison, Tamaqua mayor, with honorary copies of '30 Years of Glory', a book of China's 30 years of reform.

"We firmly believe through learning and exchange that the world will be more peaceful," said a Chinese announcer.

The program was derived from extensive research of 56 ethnic groups by the Chinese National Museum of Ethnology. The work is listed as a UNESCO "oral and intangible Cultural Heritage" in the world.

Four Tamaqua students took part in the show by modeling Chinese ethnic outfits. In addition, four Tamaqua Area Middle School students interviewed the visitors for a new school newspaper, called TMS News, on the web at tamaquamsnews.com.

Those who witnessed the show called it an experience they'll never forget.

"This is excellent," said Sean Hegarty. "It's a great event for Tamaqua."

"It's a unique cultural experience; it's New York City in Tamaqua," said Mary Jean Earley, Coaldale. Her sister Eleanor agreed.

"This was a gift to the people of Tamaqua," she said.

That sentiment was echoed by Tamaqua resident Charlie Myers.

"Anyone who didn't come to see this show really lost out," said Myers.