BERKELEY, Calif.—Dance teacher Sandy Nugent eagerly looked forward to seeing Shen Yun Performing Arts for the first time. When she attended a matinee performance at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall on Feb. 1, 2020, she found it to be an amazing experience.
“The performance was everything I thought it would be,” she said. “It was incredible. It was beautiful. The colors were unbelievable, and the choreography was fantastic. We’re all coming back next year.”
“The leaps, the arms, the extensions … the dancers are incredible. They are so strong, so focused, so graceful. It looked like the floor moved, not the dancers. It was everything we thought it would be. … It’s obvious [they trained a lot]. Full time,” she said.
Its website explains: “At the heart of the Shen Yun performance is an incredible art form known as classical Chinese dance. With its flips and gentle elegance, it is one of the most athletic and expressive art forms in the world.”
An orchestra accompanies the dancers. Shen Yun’s unique orchestra combines Eastern and Western musical traditions, using both a Western orchestra and traditional Chinese instruments such as the erhu and pipa.
“I was so fascinated, the time just went by like it was fifteen minutes,” Nugent said. “You could feel the excitement in the music. The music did tell it all. The dancers told the story, but the music also told the story.”
Many of the dance pieces in a Shen Yun performance tell legends and stories from Chinese history. Through these tales, Shen Yun aims to portray the values of traditional Chinese culture, such as benevolence, propriety, faithfulness, and respect for the divine.
Nugent found this divine aspect to be inspirational, and she loves Shen Yun’s mission. She felt sad that people in China today are missing out on seeing Shen Yun.
Today’s Chinese communist regime aims to wipe out the very culture that Shen Yun is working to bring back. In addition, some Shen Yun dance pieces tell stories about the regime’s violent persecution campaigns and the people who bravely stand up against persecution. For these reasons, Shen Yun has not been able to perform in China for fear of being persecuted itself.
After Nugent heard that traditional Chinese culture has nearly been lost, she said: “That’s very sad. But what [Shen Yun is] doing with it is spectacular, and I mean, it’s opening it up to all of us who don’t know the history.”
Nugent believes that what Shen Yun is doing is valuable.
“It should go to every school because the kids need to see. You know, we live in our own little world in the United States, and a lot of kids have no idea what it’s like to live in other countries. I think they would really appreciate it, and maybe appreciate where we live a little more, have a little more respect for what we have,” she said. “I think it needs to get out there like [Shen Yun is] doing. It’s beautiful. … It’d be great if it could be shown in every classroom in every school. I really think it’s that valuable.”
With reporting by NTD Television and Sally Appert.