LOS ANGELES—Academy Award-winning film producer Michael Phillips is familiar with visualizing the process that brings to fruition an evocative performance.
He produced “Taxi Driver” (1976) starring Robert De Niro, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977), and “The Sting” (1973), which starred Robert Redford and Paul Newman and received the Academy Award for Best Picture the year of its release.
When he attended Shen Yun Performing Arts on April 23 Mr. Phillips was elated and transported by the spectacle in ways that he had not experienced previously during a stage performance.
“It’s magical. It’s very magical. It takes you away,” he said about Shen Yun in general.
Mr. Phillips went on to explain how he felt about the dance “Drums of the Grasslands” in which a group of Mongolian horsemen, each carrying thin-skinned paddle drums, take to the plains in a lively celebration with movements that evoke images of flying eagles and wild stallions. “I began to wonder, I began to imagine what it’s like to be in that landscape. I just kept doing that over again. I felt … gee, I would like to spend a day at least in Mongolia. I ‘d like to see what that’s like. It’s really quite wonderful,” he said.
Mr. Phillips’s is also an art collector, and says he has had “a deep interest ancient Chinese culture and Buddhist art.” This was one of the reasons why Shen Yun piqued his interest, as the company seeks to revive traditional culture through classical Chinese dance.
“I’m just impressed with the artistry and the agility of the dancers, the choreography, it’s all really a great experience. It’s very fresh for me. Very new,” said Mr. Phillips.
“It’s fascinating, and it’s more diverse than I expected. It’s ancient, it’s modern—it’s really beautiful,” said Mr. Phillips.
The modern aspects to which he refereed revolve around the communist regime’s suppression of Falun Gong in mainland China that have inspired part of the performance. The spiritual message was reflected in the lyrics that were sung by baritone Qu Yue, in the song “What You are Here For?”
“It’s wonderful to see that message … and it’s good to be reminded of these ideas,” said Mr. Phillips, adding that he was particularly touched by the dance which depicts the persecution of a married couple who practice Falun Gong (“The Steadfast Heart”), as well as the dance “Monks and the Red Guards.” The latter illustrates how in the late 1960s teenagers were forced to join the Red Guards and go around the country burning books and destroying temples. In the dance story, Red Guards arrive at a remote monastery and try to drive out the monks. But they soon discover that sheer force cannot move these monks, who possess supernatural martial arts skills.
Mr. Phillips felt that these narratives added a great variety of experiences to be had from watching Shen Yun.
He was familiar with the persecution of Falun Gong (a spiritual meditation practice) in China today, and expressed hope that things will change for the better.
“The world is changing,” said Mr. Phillips.
Coming from an industry with strong visual impact Mr. Phillips also mentioned how much he and his wife Juliana Maio, with whom he attended the Shen Yun performance, loved the use of a digital backdrop. Ms. Maio is the the co-founder of Lighthouse Productions, an entertainment lawyer in Hollywood, and author of “City of the Sun.”
Mr. Phillips said they were “so delighted to see the devices of the characters appearing out of the heaven and bouncing onto the stage. It’s beautifully designed. Really really wonderful.”
“I’m going to insist that certain friends have to come, just to discover what they don’t know,” said Mr. Phillips after watching Shen Yun.
Ms. Maio enjoyed the performance as much as her husband did, saying “I felt transported into a very graceful, old tradition and coming back to the present was something that grounded me back to earth.”
She mentioned how much she enjoyed the colors of the costumes, and the overall gracefulness of the dancers. About the stories in Shen Yun, Mrs. Maio said, “I thought it was really smart to give an overview of the history of China, going way back and more to the present. And I like the way it started in a few thousands years ago and then back to now.”
As Shen Yun’s tour of the U.S. is nearing the end of this season, its mission to revive traditional Chinese culture will continue next season when Shen Yun Performing Arts’ four touring companies will recommence touring the world with an all new line-up that will pay homage to China’s 5,000 year-long history.
For audiences that can still look forward to seeing this show, Mrs. Maio predicts: “You will be enchanted. You will be taken to another world, and you will understand a lot of what’s happening today.”
Reporting by NTD Television, Yaning Liu, and Kati Vereshaka
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.
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.