KNOXVILLE, Tenn.—Dr. A.J. Baker, a former engineering professor at the University of Tennessee (UT), saw the “very enjoyable” Shen Yun Performing Arts with his wife, Mrs. Mary Ellen Baker, at the Tennessee Theater on Feb. 13.
Dr. Baker said he and his wife have seen much of the world. Shen Yun was something new. He said that the flowing motions that the Shen Yun dancers “are capable of putting on are really spectacular.”
The way the costumes are part of the choreography is unlike anything the two have seen before. Dr. Baker said that Shen Yun’s costumes “definitely fit the bill to make that motion.”
He laughed and said he loves music, because “Engineers and music go together.”
They had such good seats that he was able to peer into the orchestra pit, and he tried to see which instruments were creating which sounds. Everyone appeared to be playing with concentration, and he could not quite tell where the Chinese sounds came from.
“I’m trying to figure out what instruments make the very traditional Chinese sound,” Mr. Baker said. He was speaking at intermission, before the master of ceremonies introduced the pipa, the diza, the suona and the erhu, the instruments he was curious about.
“The ability to seamlessly blend these two systems to create one fresh, harmonious sound is what makes the Shen Yun Performing Arts Orchestra unique.
This is how the effect is achieved: A Western philharmonic orchestra plays the foundation, while traditional Chinese instruments lead the melodies. The sound produced is uniquely pleasing to the ear. The ensemble at once expresses both the grandeur of a Western orchestra and the distinct sensibilities of China’s 5,000-year-old civilization,” according to the Shen Yun website.
Dr. Baker led an internationally recognized graduate degree program in computational fluid mechanics, according to the U.T. website. He was designated the UT Chancellor’s Research Scholar in l983—the highest citation for university research achievement.
“It’s amazing,” Mrs. Baker said. She said she was especially impressed to see the dancers perform very difficult jumping and tumbling techniques wearing stunning, flowing costumes.
“It’s all very well done,” she said. Mrs. Baker volunteers to support the arts.
Mrs. Baker was especially impressed The Mongolian Bowl Dance, in which “from their tents, Mongolian women emerge balancing bowls on their heads in a dance of welcome,” according to the program.
“I thought ‘How do they do that?’” she said. Because she saw the dancers put them on, then get on the ground and move, she knew the bowls were truly balanced on the dancer’s heads, while they spun on their knees and then performed a distinctive Mongolian shoulder shake.
Shen Yun’s digital backdrops charmed Mr. Baker, and he said the way the animals and people and images came in and out of the backdrop reminded him of the mysticism of the East.
According to Shen Yun’s website, the backdrop designs “synchronize all aspects of the performance” from the characters, the color of the costumes, the story being told, and particular notes played by the orchestra.
Mrs. Baker said everything was just beautiful.
Reporting by Mary Silver and Kelly Ni.
New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has three touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world. Shen Yun will give four shows in Nashville from Feb. 15-17. For more information, visit ShenYunPerformingArts.org
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