HOUSTON—For choreographer Shawn Welling, Shen Yun Performing Arts was a technical marvel.
As a choreographer and dancer himself, Mr. Welling couldn’t help but pay special attention to the behind-the-scenes aspects of the performers and production. In the end, Shen Yun was everything he looks for in a performance.
“The most important thing is the dancers; when they’re on stage, it seems natural and instinctive to them. And that’s what I was getting,” Mr. Welling said at Houston’s Jones Hall for the Performing Arts on Jan. 1.
Mr. Welling started his career performing and choreographing for NBA World Championship games for the Houston Rockets, and continued on with NFL and NHL halftime shows, Cirque du Soleil, concert openings, stage productions, music videos, and television.
In addition to his passion for dance, Mr. Welling is a photographer, actor, and film director-producer who was awarded Best Director of 2011 and Best Film of 2009 by the Houston Press.
Mr. Welling, CEO of Planet Funk Academy, understands very well what it takes to put on a performance the caliber of the New York-based Shen Yun.
“As a dancer, I’m looking at what they’re going through and I’m thinking of the training,” he said.
Shen Yun performs traditional Chinese dance, which includes classical Chinese dance and folk and ethnic dances from China’s numerous ethnic minority groups. Classical Chinese dance is a vast and independent form with systematic training in hundreds of unique postures and movements.
The performance was all-new for Mr. Welling.
“It’s very fluid,” Mr. Welling said. And most importantly, “It’s not forced. It’s part of their heritage and life,” he added.
In addition to the form and technical skill embodied in Shen Yun—which includes highly difficult jumping and tumbling techniques—classical Chinese dance emphasizes bearing, or “inner spirit.” As Shen Yun’s website explains, “In essence, the spirit leads form, so that form is imbued with spirit,” lending classical Chinese dance to be richly expressive.
Mr. Welling was also appreciative of the use of humor in the production and by the ability of the dancers to connect with the audience.
“The acting was great,” he said. “[It] is so important not to dismiss humor because it’s what keeps the audience engaged. And I saw a lot of humor in it.”
For example, in one dance where the dancers portrayed a group of scholars in an ancient academy—”When Play Turns to Panic”—a dozing scholar’s rude awakening filled Jones Hall with laughter.
The dancers’ movements were fluid and seamless. Mr. Welling said, “They put a lot of effort into what you’re seeing, and I respect that.”
“I would say my experience was knowing that when I come out of here, I’m going to feel uplifted and kind of refreshed—and also get a little bit of laughter,” he said.
On top of the wondrous Shen Yun experience, Mr. Welling walked away with inspiration for his future works as well.
“I always do backdrop screens,” he said, giving special notice to Shen Yun’s usage of a digital backdrop.
The digital backdrop portrays scenes from the heavens to undersea palaces to China’s modern skyline, and its animated nature allows the performers to transition seamlessly from stage to screen in the dramatic stories.
“That’s something I’d like to integrate,” Mr. Welling said, before noting a technical difficulty he’s personally struggled with in many performances.
“The lowline fog?” he said, referring to Shen Yun’s opening act, which depicted dancers with rainbow ribbons spinning, seemingly, through the clouds.
“I know how hard it is to get it just right, the right level,” Mr. Welling said. “I was really appreciative of that because I’ve fought with fog machines, dry ice machines. They have it at just the right level, and I really appreciate that sort of detail.”
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.