WASHINGTON—They came as VIPs in formal roles and as private individuals; they came in groups from colleges or as families; and they came as CEOs and artists, commentators and academics, computer experts and ballet dancers; from as far away as Baltimore and West Virginia, and as close as the Pentagon, Capitol Hill, and the State Department.
It was Shen Yun Performing Arts that drew thousands to the Kennedy Center Opera House from the first day of spring and continuing for 10 days.
Indiana Rep. Dan Burton said, “I think it’s one of the most beautiful shows I have ever seen.” Philanthropist Doris Buffett, sister of Warren Buffet, said, “Anybody could see that show [Shen Yun] and be happy.” Rory Pullens, head of the D.C. based Duke Ellington School of Arts, described the Shen Yun performance as “so cultural, so enlightened, and just so artistic.”
New York-based Shen Yun aims to revive and preserve traditional Chinese culture, which has been all but lost during six decades of communist rule, according to the company’s website.
Shen Yun’s main medium of expression is classical Chinese dance, which according to the company, is one of the most comprehensive dance systems in the world.
“It’s got everything,” said Janice Nevin, a former ballet dancer and now member of the National Society of Arts and Letters in D.C. “It’s got dance, it’s got music, it’s got culture, it’s rich in its embroidery of the story its telling,” she said, adding, “Such a high level of excellence.”
Retired U.S. Army Major General Tony Taguba, now chairman and CEO for Asian Pacific Leadership and Mentors, said Shen Yun’s performance had been a unique experience.
“We were just incredibly, you might say, shocked—in a positive way—of how beautiful the culture of dance in China has been,” he said.
Classical Chinese dance is said to have a history of several thousand years and was passed down through each Chinese dynasty, the company states. Over the years, it has become a comprehensive system of dance that boasts a variety of unique rhythms, movements, and meanings.
Communicates on Many Levels
Dr. Karyn Trader-Leigh, president and CEO of KTA Global Partners, a management consulting firm, loved the light-hearted aspects of the production, particularly the dance Joyful Little Monks.
“I loved the playfulness of the monks, and what life is like in a cloistered life. It made me think of life before television in terms of how we entertained ourselves, the rich pageantry,” Trader-Leigh said.
She also appreciated the mix of ethnic cultures presented in Shen Yun, saying, “You don’t always hear about ethnic groups in China, except the Han people, which is everybody, so to hear about community and rural life, and the role of dance and culture in sustaining that.”
That is valuable, she said, “community as value.”
Contemplating the production on a deeper level, Trader-Leigh said, “There’s a lot of communication on a lot of different levels, about life, about spiritual evolution, and development there.”
She noted the structure of the dance sequences as a way of story-telling, saying, “It communicates to me something about order, order in the universe, and bringing order out of chaos.”
Returning again to the sheer beauty of the Shen Yun performance, Trader-Leigh embraced the significance of beauty in our everyday lives.
“The use of space; not just the movement, but the space one creates in design around and with everyone, that’s a form of beauty. Color is beauty. Then there’s a whole aesthetic that is just the role that beauty plays in life. I don’t know how to say it. It’s almost like beauty has a spiritual purpose.” she said.
“If you are a Chinese parent and your family has been here for generations, or not long, this is a wonderful opportunity to give your children your historic culture,” she concluded.
Cathy Hughes is the founder and chairperson of Radio One, TV One, and Interactive One, the largest African American owned and operated media company in the United States. She was moved by the deeper themes running through Shen Yun.
Describing the performance as “the most beautiful production I have seen in years,” Hughes resonated with the spiritual elements of traditional Chinese culture in Shen Yun.
“I loved the spiritual part. I loved the fact that Buddha is in many scenes and the whole spirituality issue of good always conquering evil, I think it’s so very important,” she said.
Writer and educator, Patricia Grady, found Shen Yun profound, saying the message had been “imprinted on her soul” and many of the scenes had rendered her “speechless.”
Presently a consultant on an educational program for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), she also noted the educational aspects of the production, saying Shen Yun offered insight, not only into China’s 5,000-year culture, but also into the realities of China today.
“I liked the way it shows the contrast between the current culture and the creative expression through the ages, that it’s a conflict. It was done very naturally through the dance—it was beautiful.”
Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn, a member of the International Religious Freedom Caucus in the U.S. Congress, said the Shen Yun performance had been “magnificent” and “heartwarming,” and had been made all the more powerful for including contemporary struggles.
“It gives a good insight into the cultural history of China,” he said, adding, “There’s also some very touching presentations about the triumph of the human spirit—about courage in the face of persecution that Falun Gong followers have had to suffer.”
Shen Yun was hosted by the Falun Dafa Association of Washington D.C. The performance includes dramatic scenes of persecution that practitioners of Falun Gong endure in China today. Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) is a spiritual meditation practice.
Dr. John Lenczowski, founder and president of The Institute of World Politics said he was “amazed.”
“The fact that [Shen Yun] are telling the truth and are accompanying it with beauty, is something good,” he said. “That’s what the ancient philosophers have taught us, that there is a relationship between beauty, truth, and goodness.”