SAN JOSE, Calif.—Opera singer Alla Markovich has performed a great number of the major dramatic soprano roles—Mimi from La Boheme, the Contessa from Le Nozze di Figaro among them—so both she and her family have seen a great deal of world class performances.
Wanting something new and fresh for the holidays, the family saw Shen Yun Performing Arts at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts on Dec. 27.
“We want to see something different, and we got it! It was very interesting, nice, and well done,” Markovich said.
Markovich admired the artistry of the classical Chinese dance, an art that has been refined dynasty after dynasty, over thousands of years.
New York-based Shen Yun seeks to revive the 5,000 years of Chinese civilization, an ancient culture with arts and traditions once nearly lost. To do so, the artists use classical Chinese dance, folk and ethnic dances for the 50-plus ethnic groups across China, elaborate and original costumes, an animated digital backdrop, stories that pull from myths and legends and history, and live music.
A musician herself, Markovich’s interest was piqued hearing the traditional Chinese instruments used in the performance. Instruments like the pipa, a Chinese lute, and the erhu, a two-stringed “Chinese violin” blend right in to a Western symphony orchestra, and during the San Jose performance, the program included a solo erhu performance.
“This was very interesting,” Markovich said. She was pleased, too, when the solo tenor and soprano took to the stage, performing original Chinese songs in the traditional bel canto style.
A vocal teacher herself, Markovich knew she was listening to a classical technique, and that it was well done. And the lyrics, projected with translations on stage behind the singers, spoke of universal values, of God and man and nature. Traditional Chinese culture emphasized harmony between heaven, man, and earth, and the lyrics of the songs performed by Shen Yun pick up on these themes.
Everything the family saw was unique because they were irreplaceable parts of the traditional Chinese culture, but while reading the lyrics, Markovich could see the values were ultimately the same.
“Music unites everyone,” Markovich said.
Freedom Through Art
Andy Halliday, COO of a beverage company, was also in attendance to the evening performance with friends and family.
The beliefs he saw depicted on stage were different from his own, but eye-opening and of value to him nonetheless.
“The values are rooted in culture and history that go back thousands of years,” Halliday said. “Trying to suppress any of that or reform it in the current age is the wrong thing to do. I think tradition has great value.”
Decades ago, communists in China tried to do just that: During the Cultural Revolution, the regime had systemically moved to root out traditional Chinese culture and in the process killed innocents, razed temples, burned books, and destroyed institutions. These campaigns persist even in the modern day, as one of the stories Halliday saw on stage depicted.
“I love that it is representing Falun Gong and educating the world about what an important thing it is to protect the spirit of the people against the oppression of government,” he said during intermission. He described a dance which told a story about Falun Gong practitioners and the persecution of the practice in China.
Falun Gong is also called Falun Dafa, and it is a spiritual practice with meditative exercises that teaches the three principles of “truthfulness, compassion, tolerance”—principles in line with the traditional Chinese culture that was built on teachings from Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.
Though these values are quite traditional, Halliday said they do hold value in the modern world as well, across cultures. It represents a continuity of human knowledge.
“I believe that it has [value] if you can be exposed to it,” he said. “To the degree that we eradicate the recollection of ancient culture with modern media and with fake news, all of that results in a loss of human cumulative knowledge.”
And Shen Yun has been successful in exposing audiences around the world to this culture because of the high caliber of technique and artistry.
“I’m very impressed: The coordination of the dancers, the remarkable integration of the imagery in the background with the dancers itself is extraordinary,” Halliday said.
With reporting by Mary Mann and Catherine Yang.
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.