FORT WORTH, Texas—For an artistically endowed group like the Whelans, a family of musicians, watching Shen Yun Performing Arts made for the perfect cultural, artistic experience.
Brian Whelan, along with his wife, Murrell Whelan, who sings soprano, and their children Kevin and Susanna Whelan, who play percussion and woodwinds, attended Shen Yun at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Jan. 5.
“I very much enjoyed it,” said Mr. Brian Whelan. “It was culturally different. … I found it enriching.”
New York-based Shen Yun was established by artists from around the world eight years ago to revive 5,000 years of Chinese civilization through the performing arts.
“I liked that blend of classical Western and traditional, classic Chinese [instruments],” Mrs. Whelan said of the orchestra. Instruments such as the plucked pipa and two-stringed erhu play alongside violins and flutes in the Shen Yun Orchestra, creating a completely new sound.
Erhu virtuoso Qi Xiaochun also played a solo during the performance, which really touched Mrs. Whelan.
“Beautiful, beautiful. I loved that,” she said.
Mrs. Whelan said that, as a soprano soloist, she had been so excited to hear sopranos Tianling Song and Haolan Geng sing original Chinese compositions in the bel canto style as well.
In addition to music blending East and West, Shen Yun performs traditional Chinese dance with brilliant costumes, and a digital backdrop, telling stories spanning 5,000 years across China.
“It was emotive, very emotive,” said Mr. Kevin Whelan. “It was able to use the dancing and the music very coherently to depict whatever emotion it was trying to portray, to great effect.”
Most of the dance seen in Shen Yun is classical Chinese dance, a vast and independent system of dance passed down through the dynasties, as the emcees explained.
According to Shen Yun’s website, “China’s deep cultural traditions are contained in classical Chinese dance, allowing its movements to be richly expressive, such that the personalities and feelings of characters can be portrayed with unparalleled clarity.”
In addition to form and technique, which includes many difficult aerial techniques, classical Chinese dance focuses on bearing, or the “inner spirit.” Because of this, classical Chinese dance can be used to depict scenes from any time or setting, as the younger Mr. Whelan noticed.
Shen Yun also included many ethnic and folk dances from China’s many minority groups and a wide range of settings and periods in the stories told through dance.
“The way they were able to identify and portray all these different things was just spectacular,” the younger Mr. Whelan said, pointing out not only the different personalities, but the different cultures portrayed by classical Chinese dance.
For the younger Mr. Whelan, who enjoys studying mythology and lore, stories like the one about the mythical boy Ne Zha and the Monkey King really stood out.
“These folktales, again, are sort of a window into their culture, which is fantastic,” he said.
Mrs. Whelan noted the current significance of the classical dance shown by Shen Yun.
“It was a really good feeling for me, for them to have a free place to perform their beautiful classical dance,” she said. “It’s just so tragic to think that they couldn’t do it in China. But I was really thrilled that it could be here and we could enjoy it.”
Under the current regime in China, a number of faiths are being persecuted, and most people forget that, Mrs. Whelan noted.
Traditional Chinese culture, which teaches principles like benevolence and respect for the heavens, is present throughout the art forms Shen Yun tries to revive, and is not something found in China today.
As Shen Yun’s website explains, the Chinese regime may from time to time sponsor similar performing arts, but the essence of the forms is lost.
The Whelans hoped Shen Yun’s international tours would raise awareness. “We can appreciate it knowing nothing—why can’t the [Chinese] government appreciate it?” the elder Mr. Whelan said.
The feeling Shen Yun left him with was appreciation, he said. “I appreciate the culture, it was just interesting and beautiful.”
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.