MILWAUKEE—Artists run deep in the Neuwald family. They are descendants of the German poet Emanuel Geibel, and their grandparents sang opera in Germany. “Historically, going back, our family has musicians, composers, actors; we have quite a few in the arts,” explained Barbara Kurudza, who accompanied her brother Dave Neuwald to the Milwaukee Theatre, Feb. 20.
It’s not surprising, then, that the pair were thrilled after seeing Shen Yun Performing Arts there.
“I would say that our entire family was raised to appreciate all types of music, certain classical music and classical dance. Our parents from early on took us to ballet, theater, the symphony, to absolutely everything,” said Ms. Kurudza, who although a patron of the arts, earns her living as a freelance copy editor.”
New York-based Shen Yun’s mission is to revitalize traditional Chinese culture through storytelling of legends and myths and current events. But the stories are not told, they are depicted by way of classical Chinese dance, traditional folk and ethnic dance, orchestral music, and vocal soloists.
Traditional Chinese culture, with its moral values and beliefs of the divine, has been handed down through the dynasties and different eras. Yet these were almost completely lost due to communist rule in China, which is why Shen Yun must operate from outside of China. It is not allowed in the country, according to the company’s website.
“I thought it was fabulous,” Ms. Kurudza said. “We were just talking about it on many levels. First and foremost, the entertainment value of it, just the costumes, the precision of the dancing and really keeping the true Chinese Culture alive, I think that was something that is really important at this time in history.”
“And the other aspect we talked about—we were hoping that what we considered the martyrs of Tiananmen Square were not forgotten. It’s good to see that this message is getting out and in a venue and in a manner that draws people who otherwise wouldn’t be aware of what’s happening because of other developments that are happening in our relationships with China—the economic aspect of it, the global economic aspect of it, that I think sometimes it is very easy to forget or to choose to forget the human rights violations … in China.”
“So, I think it is important not only to embrace the culture of such an ancient civilization and keep that alive but also to keep foremost in people’s mind the reality of what is happening in our world right now. I think it was twofold. The costumes, choreography, music, soloist, and everything was just fantastic,” she said.
Ms. Kurudza felt that the performance showed performers at the top of their artistic level.
But she was also touched by the spirituality of the performance: “The words touched me in particular. For people who have open, tolerant minds, I think it is just a reminder about what unites all of us and it was a good message.”
Elaborating, she said, “The human spirit and the divine spark in all of us, what we were really meant to be here for—to live with compassion and love and reaching out to one another, freedom and the freedom of that spirit, expression of that—that’s what I think unites all of us.”
Mr. Neuwald, sourcing manager for Johnson Controls, agreed: “To me, just overall, it was very spiritually uplifting. Even though there’s differences across all the strata, there is such a common element of the joy in music. The choreography of the dancing, the beautiful moves come across, the strength and the grace and the combination of all those elements. It hits a chord and fills you up with joy, peace.”
“Culturally, just from an exploration of the history, I thought it was just beautiful with the history they have to work from, so I could see how they could change it year after year and come out with something new every time and still be as exciting and interesting to participate in. I thought it was just really, really well done, I enjoyed it immensely,” he said.
Given the display of Chinese traditional folk and ethnic dances, Ms. Kurudza felt that Shen Yun would help create tolerance among different people.
“What struck me, too, in terms of Chinese Culture, looking at all those years and going geographically through China, it really struck me how different elements of what we consider, a Russian culture or a European culture or a Middle Eastern culture were all captured, and you see that it is really a very diverse people. In that respect, too, it will probably tear down some walls of stereotyping that people have and really help understand the diversities of people and the culture.”
Reporting by Valerie Avore 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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