SAN JOSE, Calif.—For photographer Jahaziel Magana, watching Shen Yun Performing Arts for the first time was a beautiful and emotional experience.
“It’s very intriguing,” Magana said. “I feel like the energy really draws you into it. I actually found myself crying a couple times. It’s very emotional for me.”
Shen Yun is a New York-based classical Chinese dance and music company that was founded to bring China’s authentic traditional culture back to life. Magana attended a Shen Yun performance at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts on Dec. 28, 2019.
“It’s also my first time attending this kind of show,” he said. “It’s my first time seeing such beauty, but also the stories and the dance moves and everything combined has been magnificent.”
Through classical Chinese dance, an ancient art form that is known for its expressiveness, Shen Yun dancers tell short stories and legends from ancient China. They also perform ethnic and folk dances and create colorful displays of choreography.
Shen Yun’s website states: “China was once known as ‘The Land of the Divine.’ This reflected a belief that its glorious culture was brought down from above.”
Shen Yun performances depict heavenly scenery, celestial beings, and traditional values such as reverence for the divine. This divine aspect resonated with Magana.
“I do believe there’s definitely higher powers,” he said. “I do feel there’s so much power and so much energy and stuff that comes from beyond. Once we connect to it, then it makes the whole world better, it makes your life better. … It shines the light into the stage, and then it’s like you can dance. … All this free access that you have to the beauty and the world and connections with one another, it’s magnificent.”
For the last few decades, the Chinese communist regime has tried to destroy China’s spiritual heritage. Shen Yun, however, strives to keep this ancient tradition alive.
“I feel like tradition is very important,” Magana said. “As we grow, and we kind of combine with other people, I feel we tend to assume our traditions and what we believe is not as important because we have to accommodate or have the same beliefs as the newer cultures; I’m trying to fit in within the newer crowds, the younger kids. … Why did we ever let this [tradition] go, because it’s beautiful.”
Shen Yun Is ‘Mesmerizing’
Scott Smith, a doctor, was also in the audience. He was entranced by the beauty of the Shen Yun performance.
“It’s amazing, it’s beautiful,” he said. “Very beautiful, almost meditative, entrancing dance. … The outfits are gorgeous; the colors are beautiful. It’s very mesmerizing. Very mesmerizing dance. It’s like almost calming for the person that’s watching it because you become very entranced by the beauty of the dance.”
As he watched the dance pieces that tell stories, he found it to be a relaxing and beautiful experience.
“They’re just beautiful stories, and it’s very passionate and very enchanting,” he said. “It kind of brings you into the story, and you kind of lose yourself in the story and become kind of part of the dance, so it’s amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. Very cool. … It’s a very relaxing experience.”
Shen Yun’s website explains that its artists incorporate meditation and study of moral teachings into their daily lives, as they believe that “cultivating the heart is the way to create art that is beautifully sublime.”
“The colors are beautiful; it’s very graceful,” Smith said. “It’s mesmerizing. It really kind of sucks you in. It almost feels like meditating or something. It’s beautiful. … It’s very spiritual. It gives you a very kind of spiritual sense, and I think it adds to the dance and makes it more three-dimensional.”
Because some Shen Yun dance pieces reveal how the Chinese communist regime persecutes modern-day people of faith, the regime does not allow Shen Yun to perform in China today.
“I had no idea you couldn’t do this dance in China. That’s sad that [they] wouldn’t be able to do this in [their] home country,” Smith said. “I’m Jewish, so I know about persecution and that kind of a thing, and that’s upsetting. Any time anybody takes something that’s as beautiful as this, any type of art like this, and you don’t get to do it where you’re from or they try to not allow you to do it, it’s sad, and it’s upsetting. I mean, this is a beautiful dance, there’s no question.”
With reporting by Cynthia Cai, Lily Yu, and Sally Appert.