COLUMBUS, Ohio—“You have to come see it. If you don’t see it here go see it somewhere else,” said Tracy Maxwell Heard, who serves as the Minority Whip in the Ohio House of Representatives. She was talking about the performance of Shen Yun Performing Arts International Company she had just seen at the Ohio Theatre, Feb. 9.
“It’s worth going to travel to see it. I mean, it would be that [as a] recommendation. If they say it was coming somewhere close by, it’s worth that travel, it’s that good,” added Cecilia McFadden, a technology consultant attending with Congresswoman Heard.
New York-based Shen Yun aims to revive 5,000 years of divinely inspired culture and share it with the world. “A Shen Yun performance features the world’s foremost classically trained dancers, a unique orchestra blending the sounds of both East and West, breathtaking backdrops, splendid costumes, singers—together creating an experience that’s leaving millions in awe,” their website states.
Congresswoman Heard, attending for the first time, had written a welcome letter for Shen Yun’s program. “This is my first experience; it’s a beautiful show,” she said.
“It’s beautiful. I grew up in the arts. It’s just wonderful to see performances like this … [which] bring a variety of things you don’t see all the time. So it’s been good, it’s great,” Ms. McFadden added.
At the heart of Shen Yun is classical Chinese dance, known for its incredible flips and tumbling and spins, but also for its gentle elegance. It is considered one of the most rigorous, comprehensive, and expressive dance forms.
One classical dance program that stood out for Congresswoman Heard was Ancient Elegance. The program notes introduce the piece as “Light and lovely, [the dancers] glide like whispers on the wind, skillfully spinning with long silken sleeves. Their dainty steps and delicate forms evoke the epitome of feminine grace.”
“That was gorgeous. It was beautiful,” Congresswoman Heard said. “I actually danced for 19 years in ballet, so I enjoy this. But I enjoy the diversity of it. Every dance is different and that’s what makes it really enjoyable,” she said.
In addition to classical Chinese dance, the dancers specialize in folk and ethnic dances that display the breadth of Chinese culture.
Ms. McFadden mentioned the diversity of the culture presented as well. “The other thing, it just showed the variety of cultures within China. Chinese culture is diverse, there are just so many different things. That’s evident in the dance,” she said.
“I like all of the ethnic ones, more of the folk dances,” Congresswoman Heard said.
Of the skill of the performers, Congresswoman Heard said, “I think they’re outstanding, absolutely. Obviously very well trained.”
For Ms. McFadden, the orchestra struck a chord: “The orchestra is just wonderful, it’s exquisite I cannot believe.. I know that they’re live, but just amazing. You can hear all the distinctive sounds, … .”
“It’s a beautiful addition,” Congresswoman Heard agreed. “There’s nothing like having a live performance here versus having a taped recording. It makes this very different. It brings the show to life.”
Congresswoman Heard explained that she saw a connection between her own community and Shen Yun’s presentation—diversity: “As I said, the [welcome] letter that I submitted to them, one of the things I love about living in Columbus is we have such a vast and diverse cultural community here, and the arts are really very strongly supported in Columbus. I think that’s why we are able to attract a show like this and you get this kind of turnout. The crowd is just as diverse as the community is.”
Shen Yun, she said, “really expresses how diverse China is as a community. And you think of the Chinese culture as all one and homogenous and it’s not. There are, from the different regions and the different cultures within, within China itself. That’s probably the best lesson or the best reminder this evening is that they are as diverse a people as we are.”
Ms. McFadden felt the show was important because it gave her another face for China: “What we learn from a historical perspective and the politics of what we perceive China to be is just a stark contrast to this contribution and what it is.”
For her Shen Yun helps people “know the human side, as opposed to more of a government or diplomatic side to experiencing the people. Its very one-dimensional the things that we see. We just see what we perceive the government to be and what we perceive [of] their sports. But there’s just so much more to the people and their sense of self, their sense of soul.
“Very, very important. And the way they even portray—though persecution is a human rights issues—but to be able to portray it in a way that’s compassionate and with dignity, it’s just well done,” Ms. McFadden said. She was referring to a dance that depicts persecution by the communist regime of people of faith.
“And there’s hope. In the dance it was there. It was a very hopeful ending. Even though there is persecution, in the end ultimately there is a positive solution and victory. It really speaks to something you don’t hear a lot about in the Chinese community especially in the media, and that’s how spiritual they are as people and have been for thousands of years,” Congresswoman Heard said.
Reporting by Jeannine Zuo and Sharon Kilarski.
New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has three touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world. For more information, visit ShenYunPerformingArts.org
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