MANCHESTER, England—Jo Sproston knows what it takes to be a dancer. As a dance school owner, she is familiar with the grueling hours, pain, and sweat required to bring a performance alive on stage.
When Sproston saw Shen Yun Performing Arts at the Palace Theatre in Manchester during the matinee on Jan. 14, she was awe-struck by the power and energy coming from the dancers as they jumped and leaped across the stage.
“First time I’ve ever seen anything like this,” Sproston said after experiencing the first half of the performance. “And the costumes, the choreography, and the actual execution of the moves are just fantastic.”
New York-based Shen Yun is a world premier classical Chinese dance and music company with a mission to revive China’s divinely inspired culture through performing arts. Classical Chinese dance, which draws upon the vast history of China’s 5,000-year-old civilization, is one way in which the Middle Kingdom’s culture has been passed down.
Sproston, who runs a dance school in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, said she was intrigued by the techniques portrayed by both female and male dancers, adding that she was captivated by the performance as a whole.
“As they walk across the stage, they just look like they’re gliding. You don’t see them move across the stage which is very beautiful to watch, especially for the women,” she said. “The power of the men dancing is just fantastic. The jumps are just incredible.”
“But it’s the whole look of it with the breath-taking costumes [and] the projections on the back. I think the whole look is a very more dramatic, instant, colorful kind of ‘Wow’ look compared to the classical ballet that I’m used to,” she added.
Along with the technique, she was also impressed by the formations, in particular how the performers seem to form them with little effort.
“I know that takes hours of work, but it’s the formations. They just glide from one set of formations to another and move form lines, circles on and off stage just seamlessly and that just takes hours and hours of doing it again, again, again. So I know how many hours that’s taken,” she said.
Classical Chinese dance is rich with an expressive power that comes through the dancer’s bearing—which can be described as a particular inner spirit—and their form. Their dance movements 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, one’s value system, according to the Shen Yun website.
Through about 20 or so vignettes, Shen Yun tries to portray different aspects of Chinese history, including palace grounds or folk dances in villages. Meanwhile, some pieces contain stories that were recorded in history or literary works that recount ancient myths, bygone heroes, or celestial paradises. They embody traditional Chinese values like loyalty, filial piety, and veneration for the divine.
In addition to dancing, Shen Yun performances travel around with a live orchestra that takes the essence from Eastern and Western classical instruments to create a harmonious sound, something Sproston enjoyed listening to.
“I really liked the mixture of East and West,” she said. “I liked the instruments. I [kept] looking down, actually, at the orchestra.”
Shen Yun Delivers a Message of Compassion and Love
Like Sproston, audience member Jane Butterworth was also amazed by the quality and artistry of the dancing.
“I thought the quality of the dancing was quite spectacular. I thought it was very gentle but also very powerful at the same time,” Butterworth said.
Butterworth, who works in essential oils, said that she was also able to feel the hard work of the dancers to bring the performance to life.
She felt that “even in a gentle movement it can have powerful expression,” she said.
“I felt that each of the dancers has worked so hard to bring that through, even in the smallest of movements.”
She also said she really enjoyed learning about historical events portrayed on stage in a “very honest way,” including pieces that touched on the persecution of Falun Gong.
Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, teaches “Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance” and has helped over 100 million Chinese people today understand and return to the essence of traditional Chinese culture. But the Chinese regime banned the practice in 1999 and has since continued to systematically persecute Falun Gong adherents in China. People who are caught practicing the discipline in China face severe persecution, including torture, imprisonment, and even death.
These 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. Such values are foundational to traditional Chinese culture and are not political in nature.
According to the Shen Yun website, many of the performers practice Falun Gong, which has inspired the performers to integrate spirituality into their work and seek inner stillness and a connection to the universe.
Butterworth said that she was able to see Falun Gong’s principles portrayed in the pieces, adding that it was something that the world really needs.
“I think it’s really needed right [now.] I think it’s really important right now. And it comes across, once again in a very beautiful way, it’s delivered with a message of compassion and with love and I think they really, really … it just comes out of them on the stage,” she said.
With reporting by NTD Television.
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.