TORONTO—Oshawa Express newspaper publisher Sandy McDowell often reads about the world’s problems—it’s an occupational hazard of sorts. But she found an escape, and perhaps some solutions, when she arrived at Shen Yun Performing Arts on Jan. 23.
Mrs. McDowell attended the classical Chinese dance and music performance with her husband, Greg, and said the traditional values expressed in the story-based dances were timely and promoted peace in a troubled world.
“It speaks to a lot of what we’re going through today with freedom of speech, rights, and [belief]—this cultural event is excellent for people of all cultures to see,” she said after the Friday evening performance at the Sony Centre.
“[Values] of peace, tranquility, compassion, trying to get along with each other, … it’s a nice respite from what we deal with everyday.”
New York-based Shen Yun was formed in 2006 by overseas Chinese artists who held a shared mission to revive 5,000 years of divinely inspired culture. Through story-based classical Chinese dance and ethnic and folk dance, the company breathes new life into ancient myths and legends. It also deals with modern-day human rights abuses in China and the peaceful resistance of the Chinese people.
Being a man of letters, Mr. McDowell, former publisher and current writer for various leading publications, admired the storytelling aspect of Shen Yun.
“All the dancing, the different dances—they each told a story,” he said. “So you learn about the culture that way, through their dances and through their stories that they tell.”
“The dancing itself, the discipline that goes along with that, it’s pretty amazing,” said Mrs. McDowell.
A dance called “Capturing Arrows With Boats of Straw” was memorable for Mr. McDowell. This piece, adapted from the classic novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” tells the story of an epic battle in the year 208 between the Wei army and allied forces Shu and Wu. Though the allies are greatly outnumbered, they outsmart the enemy by sending straw men on boats toward enemy lines as bait, steal the Wei army’s arrows, and sail home victorious.
“It was an interesting story, the military tactic that they used,” said Mr. McDowell, adding he enjoyed the entire performance.
“The show was very interesting, very colourful and very lively. The dancing was phenomenal.”
Mrs. McDowell noted the rarity of Shen Yun’s production value—having a live orchestra, world-class dancers, high-tech digital backdrops, vocal performances, and rich culture all in one performance.
“It’s quite an exquisite show,” she said. “This is our first time here and it was absolutely stunning.”
Mr. McDowell also appreciated the story-telling aspects of the vocal performances. Shen Yun’s tenor and sopranos, who sing Chinese lyrics in the bel canto operatic technique, perform all-original compositions. According to the Shen Yun website, the lyrics are rich with “philosophical reflection about human life and containing deep layers of meaning.”
“They had [a variety] of singers—and they told a story in their songs,” said Mr. McDowell.
“The orchestra was amazing,” added Mrs. McDowell. “It was so nice to hear live music and then having the tenor singing and the [soprano] was beautiful to hear.”
Leslie Appleton, the marketing and promotions manager for the Oshawa Express, found Shen Yun “breathtakingly beautiful.”
“It just takes over your whole mind and your being, and you can feel it going through your soul. It’s so relaxed and it’s almost like meditation,” she said. “It really truly is almost like meditation where you just, nothing in the world is bothering you at that moment.”
She saw the values of truth and honesty in Shen Yun. One vignette that stood out to her was “The Power of Compassion.”
“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, if you have heart and you feel what’s inside your heart, then it doesn’t matter what background, it doesn’t matter where you come from that you can feel love, compassion towards human beings,” said Ms. Appleton.
Reporting by Madalina Hubert and Justina Wheale
New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has four touring companies that perform around the world. Shen Yun’s International Company will perform in Toronto until Jan. 25. For more information, visit ShenYunPerformingArts.org.
Epoch Times considers Shen Yun Performing Arts the significant cultural event of our time. We have proudly covered audience reaction since Shen Yun’s inception in 2006.