COSTA MESA, Calif.—Shen Yun Performing Arts attracts global audiences from all walks of life, including royaly, government and religious leaders, elected officials, celebrities and scholars, just to name a few. So it is no surprise to find Dr. David Whetten and his wife Zina among a captivated audience at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts on April 13.
Both husband and wife were quite impressed by the Shen Yun performance. “It is fantastic. We’ve had the opportunity to travel to China several times because of my profession, teaching over there. So we’ve seen a number of Chinese operas and dances, but nothing like this. This is just spectacular,” said Dr. Whetten, after watching the performance.
Dr. Whetten is an accomplished scholar who recently retired as Jack Wheatley Professor of Organizational Studies and Director of the Faculty Development Center at Brigham Young University (BYU.) He is known as a Scholar of Faith. In his lecture entitled “My Journey as a Scholar of Faith” at BYU in 2013, he shared his personal journey to understand how faith and intellect work together in his personal and professional life.
Prior to joining BYU in 1994, Dr. Whetten was on the faculty of the University of Illinois for 20 years where he served as Harry Gray Professor of Business Administration, Director of the Office of Organizational Research, and Associate Dean of the College of Commerce.
During his academic career, Dr. Whetten had multiple publications in business journals, and received several academic awards, including the latest in 2009, the JMI Distinguished Scholar award by the Western Academy of Management and the BYU Marriott School Distinguished Scholar awarded.
Reactions to Shen Yun
Dr. Whetten was impressed by Shen Yun performers’ grace and hard work, and was inspired by the expressive qualities of classical Chinese dance.
Mrs. Whetten was fascinated by all aspects of the performance. She said the performers are flawless and perfect, the music is absolutely exquisite and elegant, the color and costuming are beautiful.
“Through the universal language of music and dance, Shen Yun weaves a wondrous tapestry of heavenly realms, ancient legends, and modern heroic tales, taking you on a journey through 5,000 years of Chinese culture. Its stunning beauty and tremendous energy leave audiences uplifted and inspired,” according to the Shen Yun website.
“The dancers just float across the stage and their movements are so precise and beautiful,” Dr. Whetten said. “The expression of the dance, the song and the lyrics, and the orchestration, is beautiful… You just can’t comprehend the thousands of hours that’s gone into each of these performances, but it’s just so effortlessly done. It’s just like it was programmed into them. They just flow and move as they’re inspired to.”
Mrs. Whetten added she felt like flowing with the dancers. “It’s sacred … It was a magical movement.”
Classical Chinese dance is rich with expressive power. Through expression of bearing and form, beautiful dance movements bring out the inner meaning of intrinsic thoughts and feelings, reflecting the peculiarities of human nature, the standard for human conduct, moral concepts, mental state, one’s value system, and so on,” states the website.
“You can sense they feel deeply what they’re performing. So I think there’s a combination of the music—the music is absolutely exquisite and elegant—and they tell how they’re feeling through the expressive arts.”
She said that she’s seen a lot of stunning performances, but Shen Yun is very different and uplifting: “There’s just a very calm, peaceful assurance that I think is in the message of it all the divine being that we all are. The touch with divinity, I think that’s what’s drawing me to the heavenly, upward feeling.”
Dr. Whetten felt “peaceful” and “heavenly” when watching the performance.” He said, “We don’t know what celestial dance looks like, but this could certainly be it. It’s just so beautiful and soothing and peaceful and spiritually energizing, wasn’t it?”
The website explains that there is an inextricable connection between the arts and heaven: “Throughout history, almost every culture looked toward the divine for inspiration. Today, Shen Yun’s artists-dancers, musicians, choreographers, and composers, and the entire team-follow this noble tradition. For them, this spiritual connection is the motivation for striving to excel, is the heart behind each movement of the dancer and each note of the musician. It is why audiences can feel there is something different about Shen Yun.”
Dr. Whetten was inspired by the spirituality of traditional Chinese culture portrayed in the performance and felt connected with the divine aspect of traditional Chinese culture.
“I think it’s one of the most spiritual performances I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Dr. Whetten explained that his beliefs have remarkable similarities to the beliefs that are portrayed in the lyrics of the songs of baritone Qu Yue called “What You Are Here For,” and of soprano Haolan Geng’s “The Moment of Salvation.”
And what resonated with him was the opening vignette called “Salvation and Renewal,” depicting the arrival of the Creator, who calls upon divine beings to descend to Earth and fulfill their vows.
Since ancient times, China was known as the “Celestial Kingdom,” a land where the divine and mortal coexisted. It was believed that traditional Chinese culture was a gift from the heavens. Belief in and reverence of the divine and Heaven were overarching understandings in traditional Chinese culture.
Over the past 65 years of Chinese communist rule, however, China’s 5,000-year traditions and beliefs have been nearly destroyed.
In 2006, a group of leading classical Chinese artists from around the world founded the independent, nonprofit Shen Yun Performing Arts in New York. It aims to revive, and shares with the world traditional Chinese culture through storytelling dance and music.
Dr. Whetten felt the portrayal of modern day in China through the performance very refreshing, despite his familiarity with it: “We have a special affinity in watching this [performance]… We find it very refreshing … for people to be not just praising God, but celebrating our divine nature.”
He expressed empathy for the people in China: “We’ve been [in China] several times, and we’ve talked to people about their religious beliefs. We found that many people are deeply religious. And it’s unfortunate they’re not able to practice their religion as they would like to because of the oppression that was depicted so graphically in the dance.”
He was referring to the Chinese communist regime’s oppression in China portrayed in two vignettes set in modern times, “Monks and the Red Guard” and “The Steadfast Heart.” In these, Buddhist monks and practitioners of Falun Dafa are persecuted in China. Both ultimately triumph through their peaceful faiths.
Falun Dafa is a peaceful meditation practice that embraces the guiding principles of truth, compassion, and tolerance. And it’s been brutally persecuted by the communist regime since 1999.
“We’re just loving [Shen Yun’s performance] on many levels. We’re just in awe of the grace and beauty of the performance with the spiritual foundation,” Dr. Whetten said. “We have family up in the Thousand Oaks area. We’re going to call them afterwards, and encourage them to go.”
Reporting by Yaning Liu and Thanh Le
New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has four touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world. For more information, visit Shen Yun Performing Arts.
The Epoch Times considers Shen Yun Performing Arts the significant cultural event of our time. We have proudly covered audience reactions since Shen Yun’s inception in 2006.