ROCHESTER, New York—Musician, artist, and playwright Cassandra Kelly had high praise to offer after seeing the opening show of Shen Yun Performing Arts at the Rochester Auditorium Theatre on Saturday night.
“I am also a performer. These are wonderful performers,” said Ms. Kelly, an artist-in-residence at MuCCC Theater in Rochester, who has worked in the arts and arts education internationally.
She is a jazz singer with a musical flexibility that allows her to perform in a variety of other genres as well, including classical music, blues, and country. She has also performed as an actor in theatre and written a number of musical theatre shows.
It was her first time experiencing classical Chinese dance and music, and the caliber of the performance by world-renowned Shen Yun left a wonderful impression.
“This is my first seeing the art form in person and I was fairly overwhelmed by the majesty and the grace and the perfection. It was really well done and skillfully done,” Ms. Kelly said.
New York-based Shen Yun tours the world with an all-new show each year that features classically trained dancers and singers from around the world, many of whom are winners of international competitions in dance, choreography, music, and singing.
As noted on its website, the company’s mission is to revive the true, divinely inspired culture of China—a history of 5,000 years—bringing the ancient legends and virtues of the Middle Kingdom back to life.
“I thought the dancing was fabulous,” Ms. Kelly said, especially applauding the “Mongolian Bowl Dance,” in which elegant dancers display both strength and gentleness as they balance bowls on their heads in a dance of welcome.
These are wonderful performers.
—Musician Cassandra Kelly
The technique of the dancers twirling handkerchiefs in a dance called “An Early Spring” also stood out. “”The difficulty in the moves that they do, and they do it so gracefully, it was wonderful,” said Ms. Kelly.
She also complimented erhu soloist Xiaochun Qi in her solo performance on the two-string “Chinese violin” that has a history of over 4,000 years.
“That was beautiful, that was absolutely beautiful. She is obviously very skilled and very artistic. It was very moving,” Ms. Kelly said.
“When I listened to that piece, I closed my eyes for a moment and I saw a river, a wide river, and there were reeds that were dancing in the wind. You could see and feel all the years and history behind it. It felt very modern and very ancient at the same time. It was beautiful.”
As a singer herself, Ms. Kelly particularly praised the performances of the vocal soloists, noting the “amazing voice” of tenor Yuan Qu and the “very powerful, incredible presence” of soprano Geng Haolan.
Shen Yun’s singers display mastery in their use of the bel canto vocal technique to sing Chinese lyrics. The lyrics themselves are rich with philosophical reflection about human life, with themes of hope, truth, and spiritual faith.
“It was very personal, it was very important, and they were definitely expressing something more than just entertainment, and yet it was very entertaining,” Ms. Kelly said.
She explained her observation from her own experience.
“As an artist myself, there have been times when I have done work that was deeply personal, that resonated with something, a message that I wanted to communicate. And it is a great joy as an artist to have something you really believe in, versus just doing something that has the veneer of entertainment,” she said, adding that she sensed the passion of the artists about their work.
The company notes on its website that it is completely independent of the Chinese regime and enjoys the artistic freedom that is offered in the West.
Ms. Kelly saw deep meaning in the performances of Shen Yun, which included dances and lyrics expressing the faith and courage of the practitioners of Falun Dafa, a spiritual practice that is being persecuted by the communist regime.
“It’s in the power of peacefulness,” she said. “They are standing up for what they believe in, they are standing up to be able to have equality in their voice.”
“Doing this through art is very powerful,” she added.
Reporting by NTD Television and Cindy Chan
New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has three touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world. Shen Yun will be in Rochester for one more show on Sunday, Feb. 17. For more information, visitShenYunPerformingArts.org
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