A Selfless Pursuit

For Shen Yun Performing Arts principal dancer Rubi Cho, his craft is a means for a mission greater than himself.
A Selfless Pursuit
Rubi Cho, a principal dancer with Shen Yun, was born in Japan. He won a silver award at the eighth NTD International Classical Chinese Dance Competition. (Dai Bing/The Epoch Times)
Crystal Shi
Rubi Cho performs on stages across the globe each year as a principal dancer with the Shen Yun World Company. His skills have wowed audiences and garnered him a silver award at the eighth NTD International Classical Chinese Dance Competition.

A Greater Mission

Mr. Cho, who was born Zhang Ruri, recalled that the first time he watched a Shen Yun performance, “it was extremely moving.” He was especially touched by how it depicted on stage a real-life story close to his heart: the plight of followers of the spiritual practice Falun Gong amid the persecution of the faith in China. Since July 1999, the Chinese Communist Party has targeted its adherents in what some human rights experts call a cold genocide. Hundreds of thousands have been illegally arrested and thrown into jails and labor camps, where they are often tortured.

Mr. Cho’s parents were among those targeted. They fled China as refugees to Japan, where Mr. Cho was born. Other family members who also practiced weren’t so lucky. “They were constantly persecuted,” he said. His aunt, for instance, was repeatedly arrested.

Growing up in Japan, Mr. Cho joined his parents in practicing Falun Gong, living by its central principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance and regularly attending events to raise awareness about the persecution, speaking out on behalf of the voiceless.

Mr. Cho has portrayed figures from Chinese history and legends, including generals and monks. (Dai Bing/The Epoch Times)
Mr. Cho has portrayed figures from Chinese history and legends, including generals and monks. (Dai Bing/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Cho believed it was his mission to tell the people of the world about the brutal persecution. When he saw Shen Yun, a new path seemed to open up, especially for someone who had been interested in the arts from a young age. A Shen Yun performance contains more than 15 dance pieces showcasing stories from China’s great works of literature as well as the cultures of different dynasties and ethnic groups. It also includes depictions of modern China, telling stories of the persecution of Falun Gong and the hopeful resilience of those who practice.

“I saw how on the dance stage, [the performers] could expose the persecution ... and tell everyone what is happening in China right now. I thought that was just too important,” Mr. Cho said.

Storytelling Through Dance

To be where he is today, Mr. Cho had to dedicate himself to highly demanding routines and training. But it was worth it, he said. It helped him build a rock-solid foundation, “not only in terms of technical capabilities, but also in terms of mental willpower—how you’re able to persevere in difficult situations.” He realized it was the mental hardship, not the physical pain, that was the hardest to endure, especially when he felt stuck with a certain technique or became discouraged. He found support in his fellow dancers and learned to refocus by turning his frustration or worry into productive steps for improvement.

Since performing with Shen Yun, Mr. Cho has taken on the role of a persecuted Falun Gong practitioner in dance pieces like the ones that first inspired him. He’s also played many figures from Chinese history and legends, from a young emperor and an old Daoist master to dignified generals and playful monks. As part of Shen Yun’s mission to revive traditional Chinese culture, the company brings to life these stories, and the timeless values they carry, on stage.

“Chinese classical dance came from Chinese culture,” Mr. Cho explained. It’s an art form tracing back to martial arts and Chinese opera and theater and passed down through millennia, he said. Its movements are thus capable of expressing a rich spectrum of emotions, portraying myriad characters and stories.

But conveying their essence demands a depth of understanding beyond pure physical technique.

When he’s not in training, Mr. Cho studies Chinese history and culture, such as by reading the four great classical novels of Chinese literature, to understand each character’s complex inner world. With the guidance of the instructors, he learns how to express that inner world in “the detail of every single movement—every turn of his body or his head, or how he’s looking at another person,” he said.

Mr. Cho has a highly demanding training regimen. It has helped him develop a solid foundation encompassing technical mastery and mental willpower. (Dai Bing/The Epoch Times)
Mr. Cho has a highly demanding training regimen. It has helped him develop a solid foundation encompassing technical mastery and mental willpower. (Dai Bing/The Epoch Times)

In a performance, he also needs to coordinate closely with the orchestra’s conductor, feeling the music and matching his movements to it. Only then does it all come together, he said.

“You have to take your understanding of the character and the story, and connect it to your understanding of the music, and use your dance to express it,” he said.

One of his favorite characters he’s played was an old Daoist master who saved a general from death on the battlefield and took him as his disciple.

“He’s very cool,” Mr. Cho said with a laugh. “He has a very educated, cultured feeling, a sense of calm.” The part involved a solo, where the master revealed his spiritual teachings in front of his disciples.

“It was very profound for me,” Mr. Cho said. “It’s very slow, but it’s very beautiful, it has a lot of grace, and it has techniques in the movements, too.” It’s a testament to the range of Chinese dance, whose movements can be explosive—like fire, Mr. Cho said—or calm but no less powerful, like the flowing of a vast river, slow but strong.

In preparing for the role, Mr. Cho read stories of spiritual cultivators and immortals of the past.

“A lot of those immortals, their way of conduct is not mundane; they have a lot of grace and wisdom. You can feel it,” he said. “[On stage,] I was really able to feel the profoundness and achieve [that] calm state and try to express my understanding of this feeling that transcends the human world.”

It’s a feeling that undoubtedly reaches the audience, too. At the story’s peak, the old Daoist tests his disciples by jumping off a cliff, proclaiming that he’s going to ascend to the immortal realm and that those who want to follow him there can jump after him. None of his disciples follow—except for the general. He’s the only one who then ascends with his master.

“I remember a lot of the audience was talking about that dance; they were deeply moved by the story, too,” Mr. Cho said. “The whole dance piece’s message is about faith. It’s pretty hard to have that much deep faith [while] in this world, [to have] something that you really appreciate and believe unconditionally. I think it’s actually what everyone wants. But it’s not [something] everyone can get.”

To Greater Heights

In his studies of Chinese history, Mr. Cho especially loves learning about the Tang Dynasty, a period he likens to the Renaissance in the West. It was a time of excellence and achievement in all fields, when people were accomplished not only in one area but across subjects from the sciences to the arts.

“There were a lot of very exceptional figures of history, from very renowned emperors to poets, politicians, artists,” he said—many of whom he’s portrayed on stage. “I really connected to them.”

Then, does Mr. Cho have aspirations of becoming a Renaissance man himself? Between his world-class artistry, his scholarly pursuits, and the lengthy roster of roles under his belt, he seems well on his way to becoming one.

“I hope I can really achieve that,” he said, noting, however, that his achievements are not for himself. “It’s more like, I can use all of my abilities to help society and the people around me.”

In performing with Shen Yun, he’s found a way to deliver what he thinks the world needs most.

“What Shen Yun spreads are righteous, traditional values: truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance,” Mr. Cho said. “I think those are the world’s most important and most universal values.”

The Epoch Times is a proud sponsor of Shen Yun Performing Arts.
Crystal Shi is the food editor for The Epoch Times. She is a journalist based in New York City.
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