COLUMBUS, Ohio—“I just thought it was stunningly beautiful. I’ve never seen so much sustained beauty in my life. It was just incredible,” said Stephen Larsen, owner of Bella Restaurant, after watching Shen Yun Performing Arts International Company at the Ohio Theatre.
“I came here with high expectations and it certainly exceeded it,” he said after seeing the performance Sunday afternoon on Feb. 10.
New York-based Shen Yun showcases classical Chinese dance, one of the most comprehensive dance systems in the world. Its origins go right back to the beginnings of ancient Chinese culture, some 5,000 years ago.
The company also presents folk and ethnic dances, an orchestra that presents a unique combination of Eastern and Western instruments, and soprano and tenor soloists accompanied by piano.
Mr. Larsen has had a varied career. He is a former developer and designer and has practiced Buddhism. He did graduate work in psychology and philosophy.
“I’ve been thinking about if this show … goes all around the country as well as the world and if I could I’d catch up with it again,” he said. “I don’t know how you could spend this amount of money and have this amount of enjoyment. I’m truly impressed.”
As an appreciator of the arts and a designer, he felt he has an eye for aesthetics. “I really, really enjoy music and ballet. I wasn’t quite prepared for this particular kind of dancing. It’s just combining the antiquity, the thousands and thousands of years of cultural evolution, so to speak, with this beautiful training that they must go through, … the symmetry and the grace,” he said of the dancing.
Mr. Larsen thought the orchestra sounded beautiful, but he was particularly struck by the projected backdrop, which animates figures that come to life as live performers onstage take over their roles.
“The visual backdrop, I’ve not seen that [before]. I know we’re getting into more mixed media these days and I love that,” he said. “The special arts of the participants flying out of the clouds and popping up on stage. It was just full of surprises and delights.”
But Mr. Larsen dwelled on deeper aspects of the performance: “I really do believe that we would benefit from more blending of our diversities. I happen to be a proponent of the, I guess, convergence of Eastern and Western. Both in spirituality and I’ve travelled the length of China and I’ve many, many years ago got captivated by the Orient, primarily Japan. So I have an ear for the music and the art and particularly the landscape and the very thoughtful architecture that I see, both in Japan and China. And I happen to be a student of Buddhism,” he said.
“I’ve been a lifelong student of philosophy and the meaning of life. So I was particularly struck by the way that they brought the visual arts, the dancing, the music, and everything into association with deeper and larger issues of life.”
He explains,”It was the divine, the human condition, there was the meaning of life, and it was all intertwined with the singing and the dancing. I thought that was remarkable.”
Mr. Larsen appreciated that Shen Yun made a tribute to different ethnic backgrounds:“It just seemed like they honored the diversity of China. And also brought forward in a very subtle way, some of the problems in modern China. But I thought it was tasteful the way that was presented. It wasn’t overwhelming. It wasn’t overly negative,” he said.
He was referring to some of the dances about modern China that show persecution by the communist regime.
“I’m chagrined by the emerging materialism in China,” he said. “But I just hope that grounded as they are in this sort of cultural past—and I think the people are—they will stay on course.”
Not only does he believe Shen Yun is important in preserving what is best of China, but also in spreading that to the West.
“It’s important to bring this kind of cultural awareness to the West. The West can help carry this tradition, and I think that’s really important. Left to themselves, it’s possible that the Chinese could be overwhelmed. But I think this is, maybe this is part of what’s going on here with this presentation.”
“Shen Yun is spreading the awareness and appreciation for this kind of culture. When you think of our few couple hundred years that we’ve been around, compared to 5,000 that they represented here, I think it’s all extremely beneficial to have this kind of thing,” he said.
“I can’t wait to share this experience with others I care about. Hopefully they will have the opportunity to see this as well,” he said.
As for himself, he said, “I will not miss another one I assure you.”
Reporting by Valerie Avore and Sharon Kilarski.