MISSISSAUGA, Canada—Lata Pada is the kind of Canadian who enriches the cultural fabric of the country, a lifetime mission she’s been celebrated for with awards and accolades too long to list in their entirety.
The artistic director and principal choreographer of Sampradaya Dance Creations, as well as the principal teacher of Sampradaya Dance Academy, she is among Canada’s foremost experts in South Asian dance.
But on Friday night she saw something she said was like nothing she’d seen before and it left her deeply impressed.
It was her first time to see Shen Yun Performing Arts, the world’s premier classical Chinese dance company.
“It was really magnificent, it was such an incredibly rich and vibrant performance,” she said.
“There’s so much variety that nothing was predictable and nothing got monotonous. Every piece was so different. The audience really enjoyed it,” she said.
Ms. Pada comes to her opinions with an international reputation as a dancer. She was named to the Order of Canada in 2008, the first South Asian artist ever to receive that honour. In 2011, the President of India awarded her the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman to honour her “exceptional and meritorious contribution” to the arts.
Her dance career is full of noteworthy achievement, but in more recent years she has focused efforts on passing on that knowledge. In addition to teaching at her own academy, she is an adjunct professor in the Master’s Program of Dance at York University.
Unique and Dynamic
Ms. Pata said Shen Yun’s dancing was both unique and exceptional.
“It was beautiful, the choreography was lovely and it was so different from anything that I’ve seen before.”
“I saw that there was a huge amount of physicality in it,” she said, complimenting the jumps and flips that are the most technical movements of classical Chinese dance. These movements were later adopted by other disciplines, becoming what people know today as gymnastics and acrobatics.
“The technique of Chinese classical dance is also very unique because it has this very light lifting of the body and yet very dynamic acrobatic body movements—very beautiful.”
She also appreciated the scale of the performance, something she understood to be highly difficult to accomplish.
“It was wonderful to see so many dancers on one stage—male dancers, female dancers—beautifully choreographed and imagined.”
There was a tremendous diversity to Shen Yun’s performance that night, and she said it gave her pause to consider India’s own diversity.
“It was very inspiring because I could see the incredible diversity across China. You had all the dynasties, all the folk dances, all the Manchurian, Mongolian and I was thinking, ‘India is also such a vibrant, diverse country.’”
“And I was inspired because I immediately thought of so many regions of India that have so many different styles of dancing and costuming. It would be great to create something like this.”
While Shen Yun gave her inspiration, she said it would be challenging to produce something on the same scale.
“This is huge, but maybe in a smaller way it would be lovely to showcase.”
She also appreciated the expressiveness of the dramatic element of the performance, something that marks a significant difference from Western and other dance forms, though Indian dance is unique for its own facial expressions.
“Incredibly graceful, the movement was lyrical and yet physical and that is the combination that was so wonderful.”
She also appreciated the unique music that accompanied the performers, Shen Yun’s symphony orchestra which includes both Eastern and Western instruments.
Shen Yun also includes three vocal soloists singing in Mandarin in the bel canto operatic style. Mei Xuan, a virtuoso in China’s two stringed violin, also performed.
“Lovely to have live music and to have such an incredible orchestra. The singing was beautiful and I love the erhu, the instrument. I just think it is so beautiful and meditative. I really love that,” said Ms. Pata.
Even Shen Yun’s costumes gave her pause she said, wondering how the dance company managed the logistics of dealing with the hundreds of original creations, not to mention the design that went into them.
“As a dance choreographer I kept thinking, ‘How do they travel with all of this and keep it straight so that the right dancer gets the right costume?’ So many accessories also that were used. It was just beautiful.”
Shen Yun’s costume artists collect countless designs of traditional attire, ranging from emperors to everyday clothing. Ms. Pata noted this work in the performance that night, describing the costumes as incredible.
She also appreciated the vividly animated digital backdrop Shen Yun used to extend the range of the stage to diverse eras and regions, as well as heavenly realms. Sometimes those living scenes even interact with the dancers on stage.
“I loved the projection where the characters came to the ground and then suddenly a real person in that character came up on stage. That was very beautiful,” she said.
Conveying a Sense of Peace
There was more than beauty to the performance though, she said, noting that Shen Yun carried a depth within its performance.
“I think what they conveyed is a sense of peace, a sense of meditation, and celebrating life and acknowledging and honouring China and its traditions,” she said.
“It’s about human dignity and it’s about human spirit that in spite of all the challenges and obstacles that people should be given the freedom to practice what they believe in.”
Ms. Pata said it was a beautiful gift to Mississauga to play host to Shen Yun and see the diversity of Chinese traditional culture.
“I think everybody who’s here, Chinese and other cultures have something really important to take away with them.”
When asked to describe the show in a few words, she said: “Spectacular, enriching, and truly, truly beautiful.”
With reporting by NTD Television
New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has four touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world. Shen Yun’s World Company will give four sold-out performances in Mississauga before heading to Toronto on Jan. 23. For more information, visit ShenYunPerformingArts.org
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.