SAN ANTONIO—Robert Gilbert couldn’t sit still in his seat. His breathing had quickened while his eyes laid transfixed on the young men tumbling and jumping as they crossed the Mongolian plains.
He had not expected this when he walked through the doors of Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in San Antonio, Texas, on Dec. 28. Everything he saw tonight during Shen Yun Performing Arts had exceeded his expectations.
“Absolutely breathtaking,” he said. “The way they can convey emotion just through dance. The video productions in the background synchronized.”
Classical Chinese dance is one way in which 5,000 years of Chinese culture have been passed down and retained. New York-based Shen Yun travels the globe on a mission to revive this cultural treasure that was nearly lost.
According to the Shen Yun website, the dance movements of classical Chinese dance are richly expressive and can 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, and one’s value system.
The expression comes from the performer’s bearing and form. A performer’s “bearing” is described as a particular inner spirit and is formed by a combination of something resembling cultural DNA or an ethnic flavor, together with the heritage of 5,000 years of Chinese civilization, according to Shen Yun. While form, on the other hand, refers to the techniques and methods expressed externally.
Gilbert, who is a vice president of a company that works in government relations, said the piece, “Goodness in the Face of Evil,” made him go through various emotions as he followed the protagonist through her trials and tribulations as a Falun Dafa practitioner in China.
“Sorrow … would probably be the one emotion that I felt. The people get persecuted for their beliefs. Unfortunately, we know that that happens,” he said.
“But then also, the joy at the end where she gets her sight restored through her faith. So again, very very positive.”
Falun Dafa, or Falun Gong, is a spiritual practice that’s currently banned in China. Many of Shen Yun’s performers practice Falun Dafa, which is guided by the principles of “Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance.” Because of its spiritual nature, the practice has helped over a hundred million Chinese people understand and return to the essence of traditional Chinese culture.
But the Chinese regime, whose ideology is in stark contrast with the traditional culture of China, has targeted Falun Dafa for persecution since 1999. Shen Yun showcases some Falun Dafa-related dance stories and lyrics, which, like other stories, portray themes like spiritual devotion, the benevolence of gods, good and evil retribution, and the search for the meaning of life, according to the company’s website. These items touch people’s minds and hearts and are unconcerned with politics.
Meanwhile, Gilbert said he also felt calm and tranquil during pieces that portrayed the spiritual aspect of Chinese culture. Spirituality, he added, is usually found in many art forms, like dancing.
“I don’t know how you can have one without the other,” he said. And in Shen Yun he saw it was deliberate, in both the movement and the narratives. “I think it’s great that you bring in a higher power.”
China was once known as Shen Zhou or divine land. This profound name describes a land where deities and mortals coexisted, and a belief that the divine transmitted a rich culture to the people of the earth, according to the Shen Yun website. For thousands of years, Chinese people followed principles such as benevolence and justice, propriety and wisdom, respect for the heavens, and divine retribution—which were influenced by their reverence for Buddhism, Taoism, and other disciplines.
Gilbert, who attended the performance with his wife and mother-in-law, added that they were all amazed by the performers’ energy.
“My mother was saying, she wonders how long they have to practice on a daily basis because everything is so flawless and synchronized,” he said. “Their energy is—like I said, I wish I had it.”
With reporting by Amy Hu and Janita Kan.
The Epoch Times considers Shen Yun Performing Arts the significant cultural event of our time and has covered audience reactions since the company’s inception in 2006.