Shen Yun a Boon to the Performing Arts World

Shen Yun a Boon to the Performing Arts World
Shen Yun curtain call at the matinee performance at the Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center on March 4, 2023. (The Epoch Times)
Catherine Yang
The arts are a notoriously difficult industry to crack, and the pandemic has made it only more difficult for performing arts companies to thrive. According to nationwide surveys, many core arts organizations haven't yet returned to pre-pandemic levels of activity.

But one company has a standout story.

After cutting its 2020 global tour short in March, Shen Yun Performing Arts returned to touring in the summer of 2021, long before many other performing arts groups. It represented a ray of hope, both for audiences and the performing arts community.

By the fall of 2021, Shen Yun had resumed performances worldwide, and its ongoing 2022–2023 season is its largest ever, with the world’s premier classical Chinese dance company set to visit 200 cities around the world with its eight touring groups. For half a year, more than 150 performances are held each month, and the demand is only growing.
Even before the pandemic, Shen Yun was somewhat of a wonder in the industry. Typically, these companies—presenting ballets, operas, and orchestral performances—rely on old chestnuts (think "The Nutcracker" and Beethoven’s Fifth) to bring in half of  the audience, and earned revenue is typically expected to cover only half of the company’s budget, with the rest coming from private, foundation, or government funds.
An unusual case, the vast majority of Shen Yun’s budget is covered by earned revenue. Mike Wang, one of Shen Yun’s representatives, confirmed in an interview that the New York-based company receives no government funding and few donations.

All this is more surprising considering Shen Yun’s productions are, by some measures, extravagant.

First, there is the sheer size of the dance groups. Each of the eight companies is composed of about 80 people, which includes the dancers, the musicians of a full orchestra, and the crew. And each season requires a great deal of travel.

Then, there is the fact that every year, Shen Yun puts on an entirely new program, meaning about a dozen new dances to choreograph, along with new couture costumes, new music compositions, and new backdrop sets to accompany each piece.

Today, premieres of new choreography or compositions are usually prepared with much fanfare, and audiences don’t expect more than one or two from any given performing arts group per season. Shen Yun’s approach is atypical and indeed raises the bar on what a group of artists can accomplish.

“We make a new production every year. We keep improving our technology, our choreography, our costumes, the storyline, the music, everything. The production cost is extremely high,” Wang said. “Is it worth it? It’s worth it for us.
“That’s true art, and it’s for the benefit of many people.” Shen Yun’s standards are high across the board, in part because the artists know how much of an impact they can have on the audience, he said. The company has received and read numerous reviews over the years of those who have had uplifting, even transformative experiences seeing Shen Yun's performances.

“It’s worth our effort, because we keep improving, we keep pushing the boundaries of performing arts, and it’s for the benefit of our audiences and the performing arts world,” he said.

For this reason, every bit of support is met with gratitude. Wang said a handful of theaters were able to cap their rental fees or give a low flat fee and reasonable labor costs, which contributed to Shen Yun's being able to perform in cities across Southern California for more than a month. These cases were actually mutually beneficial; a few years ago, a theater in the UK shared data showing that 66 percent of the attendees were new theatergoers, Wang said.

“We’re bringing in new audiences, people who never came to the theater. That’s also one way we’re pushing boundaries,” he said.

Shen Yun Performing Arts performing an ethnic Chinese dance in 2019. (Shen Yun Performing Arts)
Shen Yun Performing Arts performing an ethnic Chinese dance in 2019. (Shen Yun Performing Arts)

Reaching the American Dream

Many, for these reasons, consider Shen Yun a classic American success story.
The mission of this music and dance company is to revive 5,000 years of Chinese civilization, but ironically, the show can't be seen in China at all.
In 2006, a group of leading artists from China formed Shen Yun in New York. Many of them were dissidents who were facing persecution by the Chinese Communist Party for their faith and sought refuge and freedom of belief and expression overseas.

Since then, millions have witnessed this revival of a divinely inspired culture, and Shen Yun has been warmly welcomed around the world.

Carlos Veitía, director of the Eduardo Brito National Theater, saw Shen Yun when it performed at the Eduardo Brito National Theater in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, this February.

“For me, this is a brilliant moment within my management in the theater because [Shen Yun] is a dance company that believes in virtues, in discipline, in raising the human spirit, that all countries, all cultures, have to watch,” he said. “The National Theater will always be open to anyone who comes with art, to tell the truth about it.

“It’s a culture so enormous and so ancient. It is a precious company ... of very well-trained dancers.”

Macarena López, director of Espacio Cartuja Center CITE—the theater that hosted Shen Yun in Sevilla, Spain—said she was transported to a world of “sublime beauty” while watching the performance on March 8.

“What we have here today from the dancers is a show of the highest category. I tell you, the orchestra, the sound it has, is something magical,” she said.

Harry Haourari, associate director of operations at Lincoln Center, saw the performance with his daughter in New York City last year.

“I think it’s gorgeous! It’s beautiful. I give it a 10!” he said. “I like the production, the choreography. The culture that I had to learn about was absolutely incredible!

“I really love the live orchestra, especially that moment when they introduced the conductor and everybody else. There’s nothing like music with a live orchestra. I believe music is healing—if you take it deep in your heart and you listen, it’s really healing.”

Included in the audience comments every year are those from the arts industries, who express admiration and inspiration—and even hope, for the advent of a golden age in the arts.
The Epoch Times is a proud sponsor of Shen Yun Performing Arts
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