“It’s extraordinary,” said Valentine Palmer, producer, voice coach, actor, and former singer, who has previously performed at the venue. “I’ve never seen anything like it. And I have to say honestly, some of the pieces was so exciting that I was emotionally moved. I felt I wanted to cry. And I don’t cry easily.”
Classical Chinese dance, an ancient system that, with extremely complex movements, postures, and techniques—one of the most comprehensive in the world—is at the heart of a Shen Yun performance, according to the company.
“Every one of those dancers could be a premier solo dancer here at the Coliseum or at the Royal Ballet,” proclaimed Mr. Palmer. “It was quite extraordinary, and some of those leaps and moves are amazing—it’s like they are made of elastic, you know, it stretches and if I tried any of those I would be in hospital for a year. So that’s very impressive.”
With a background in singing, Mr. Palmer proffered his experience viewing the vocal soloists of Shen Yun, who use bel canto technique while singing Chinese lyrics.
“When we get trained as singers, serious singers, we train in the Italian way, usually singing Italian. Now, when you sing in Mandarin or Cantonese—whichever—using this kind of Italian style, it’s very very difficult, because the Chinese voice is placed, say up here? This is where it is. So you’ve got the voice placed here but you are singing in a modern style,” he explained, motioning, “I was particularly impressed by the tenor—wonderful, wonderful tenor voice, and I think there was a top C in there somewhere. Very impressive.”
Shen Yun handcrafts silk costumes in a wide range of traditional attire, from emperors, to ministers; from imperial dragon robes, phoenix coronets, and cloud capes to the warrior’s helmet and armor; and “from the civil official’s headdress and robes to the warrior’s helmet and armor, and from the traditional rightward cross-collared Han clothing to the ethnic attire of the Manchurian, Tibetan, Dai, Mongol, and Uyghur ethnic groups,” expounds the company’s Learn section.
Fashion designers from Donna Karan to Dr. Harry Darsono have had lavish praise for Shen Yun’s costumes, with Dr. Darsono even saying that the color scheme of Shen Yun—vibrant, bold colors, with layers of clothing—”are very much inspiring to the fashion world.”
Mr. Palmer on Thursday called the colors “sensational.”
For all of Shen Yun’s surface beauty— as the company describes, “sophisticated dance techniques, an orchestra joining instruments East and West, beautiful costumes, and a stunning back drop,” there is profound spiritual values imbued in Chinese culture that exude throughout the performance.
“Digging deeper, one discovers a sea of traditional Chinese culture. Mortals and divine beings merge on stage as one. Principles such as benevolence and justice, propriety and wisdom, respect for the heavens, and divine retribution, all come to life, washing over the audience. Originating from Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, these ideals are the essence of traditional Chinese culture,” explains Shen Yun’s website.
“I think that it has a spiritual quality that we don’t associate with perhaps China today; we think of transistors and iPads and things being made in factories,” said Mr. Palmer. “You can be moved to tears by the beauty of this show and the feeling of it.”
The 5,000 year-old culture was nearly decimated by communist rule in China. Shen Yun was established to revive this culture and show it to audiences around the world.
“There is no show like this—of course there is nothing like it,” said Mr. Palmer. “I mean obviously I don’t know a lot about Chinese history, but it’s a long history and a long tradition, and this show is introducing the tradition to us here in England. And people in England don’t know anything about this kind of thing and it’s a wonderful introduction.”
Mr. Palmer’s wife Catherine found the performance to be “a most amazing experience.”
“I just felt that the energy,” she said. “It was so beautiful and I loved the enthusiasm and the passion of the dancers. The colours were just extraordinary, and extraordinary experience and I’m so grateful for having the opportunity to come and see [Shen Yun]. I will certainly tell people about it and come again.”
Mr. Palmer parted with advice to those who have yet to see the performance that is awing audiences from Washington D.C to London, and from Taiwan to Australia.
“I would say, if you’ve never been to China come and learn some of the truths about China, and if you have been to China come and see a China you don’t know about.”
Reporting by SOH radio network, NTD Television, and Zachary Stieber.
Shen Yun Performing Arts, based in New York, has three touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world, with a mission to revive traditional Chinese culture. Shen Yun Performing Arts International Company will perform at The London Coliseum, April 12-15.
For more information visit ShenYunPerformingArts.org