Nine scorching suns fill the backdrop as colorful dancers leap across the stage and complete highly complicated flips and tumbles. In the midst of the depicted chaos, an old, bearded Taoist master slowly enters the scene. He captures the audiences’ attention with his humble grandeur.
It’s rare to come across someone who has stellar dance skills, and also a natural, majestic, elegance that can portray the character of a Taoist master, but Alex Chun possesses it all.
Mr. Chun, from Noisiel, France, arrived in New York in 2007 to attend Fei Tian Academy of the Arts, a chartered school specializing in the classical Chinese dance training and art form. After passing rigorous exams, Mr. Chun was chosen to participate in the practicum performances at Shen Yun Performing Arts, a classical Chinese dance company whose mission is to revive 5,000 years of traditional Chinese culture.
In addition to ethnic dances, Shen Yun also performs mini-dramas that retell ancient Chinese myths and legends, further incorporating the essence of Chinese culture.
For instance, the group dance, Lady of the Moon, tells a myth about the world being destroyed by the appearance of nine suns in the sky. In this myth, the lady of the moon’s husband, Hou Yi, is tasked with saving the world from boiling heat.
Mr. Chun’s Taoist role plays a critical part in the story.
Hou Yi would not have been able to defeat the suns without the help of the elderly Taoist master, who imparts him wisdom and a magical bow and arrow. Mr. Chun was able to capture the essence and air of an immortal transmitting truth to a follower.
“The choreographers like to have me perform these roles,” Mr. Chun said. “They say that I am able to portray the feelings and transmit them to the audience.”
Mr. Chun carries a Taoist whisk, a large horsetail brush that is also a well-known Chinese weapon often used in traditional Taoist martial arts. Proper handling of the whisk prop not only requires agility, but also a harmony of temperament and spirit, which Mr. Chun embraces.
Mr. Chun has also been chosen to portray multiple noble and wise figures from Chinese history and literature. He was chosen by choreographers to play Xuan Zang in the 2010 dance based on the classical Chinese literary text, Journey to the West.
The story is based on a historical monk, Xuan Zang, who is said to have journeyed from China to India to bring Buddhist scriptures to China during the Tang Dynasty. The attributes of this historical figure is said to have a majesty and solemnity of spiritual wisdom.
Mr. Chun has the exceptional bearing to portray such a character. Bearing is one of the main components of classical Chinese dance. It is the specific inner spirit of the dance movements that comes from 5,000 years of Chinese civilization.
“If you just practice the techniques many times, you will improve. But bearing is different,” Mr. Chun said. “You have to take the time to develop bearing; the process of each movement has to be thought through very thoroughly.”
Bearing focuses on control over breath, intent, and deep emotional expression in order to capture a specific aura for a dancer’s particular role. “People say I can have that [solemn] presence on stage,” Mr. Chun said. “This presence creates a type of character that transmits a message to the audience.
“I’m a pretty introverted person in my everyday life,” he said. “But on stage, I feel different when I communicate with the audience.”
Mr. Chun also has a rare, natural talent to communicate various roles to the audience. He can play a wide range of characters, from evil ones to Taoist masters.
In addition to superb acting skills and bearing, Mr. Chun has also mastered the technical aspects of classical Chinese dance.
Classical Chinese dance requires extensive training in advanced technical skills, such as combinations of complicated jumps and leaps, turns, and flips. Mastering these techniques enhances bearing and form.
Mr. Chun’s favorite is the “540,” an advanced variation of the tornado kick.
A tornado kick is a 360 degree kick, which the advanced version turns into a 540 degree kick in order to land on a different leg. For the past couple of years, Chun has been doing 100 “540’s” a day as a part of his daily routine dance training.
NTD Dance Competition
In 2009, Mr. Chun entered New Tang Dynasty Television’s International Classical Dance Competition, the only competition that competes in classical Chinese dance on an international scale. Chinese dance professionals have been competing from all over the world since 2007.
Mr. Chun’s character for the competition was an injured warrior. “It wasn’t hard for me to develop the feeling.” He said he pondered deeply on the internal struggle a soldier could face when he wants to fight, but is held back by his crippled body.
“I made it to the finals for my ability to portray characters,” he said. “It was about portraying the pain with determination.
“At the end of the dance, it was determination that gave me energy to forget about my injury and return to battle,” he said.
“Gymnasts and acrobats have great techniques, but it’s not classical Chinese dance, there’s no inner meaning portrayed,” he said. “We emphasize bearing more than technique, that’s what classical Chinese dance is really all about.”
Shen Yun Performing Arts
Mr. Chun said he never considered going to another dance company. He said there are various talented Chinese dance groups in mainland China, but they incorporate “modern techniques” and “morbid” aspects that did not exist in traditional Chinese culture.
“I plan on dancing with Shen Yun for as long as I can, it’s unlike any other performing arts group,” he said. “Their mission is different; it is visionary and noble.”
Based in New York, Shen Yun Performing Arts has a mission to revive China’s 5,000-year-old divinely bestowed history.
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