CHICAGO—Piano teacher, church organist and choir director Sherry Van Oberen was delighted hearing the authentic Chinese instruments in the performance of Shen Yun Performing Arts New York Company she saw at the Civic Opera House, April 21.
“It was really special to hear those come through,” she said.
New York-based Shen Yun strives to bring traditional Chinese arts to the world, and they accomplish this by the innovative a mix of Western and Chinese instruments in their full orchestra.
Ms. Van Oberen was captivated by the Chinese “erhu,” a two-stringed instrument with a plaintive, expressive sound. But she was delighted with all of the instruments: “It was fun to hear the drums,” she siad.
“The pianist is really wonderful—she knew everything. It’s great.”
In addition to the orchestra, Shen Yun is known for its dance, both ethnic and classical Chinese dance.
Of the dances, Ms. Oberen picked up on details of the props and costumes of each program that pleased her: “I loved the little boxes that they clicked My Beloved Yi Village … —they were wonderful. It’s very enjoyable and one of our favorites was the fans Plum Blossum and then the sleeve dance, the beautiful, twirly skirts 'Ladies of the Tang Palace'. It was just wonderful. Very enjoyable.”
About Herding on the Grasslands, an all-male dance, Ms. Oberen said: “That was wonderful. The strength and precision of the ensemble was wonderful and there’s such an intensity of all the dancers. We’ve gone to lots of ballets and dances and that sort of thing. The thing we were most struck with was all of the dancers were so accurate and intense and into the pieces. It was very strong. It was great.”
Ms. Oberen’s daughter Ellisa, also attending the show commented on the dance, too, saying, “I particularly loved the dances where it showed the adversity that’s going on in China and how the Chinese people are still keeping their spirit and their hope that something good will come out of [the persecution]. It was a very neat glimpse into that kind of mentality.”
Ellisa was referring to three of the dances that depicted the repression of spirituality in China today. She was also saddened to hear that Shen Yun is not allowed to perform in China, but, nonetheless, she was so glad to learn about it.
“I understand that culture a little bit more,” Ms. Oberen said.
Agreeing, Ellisa shared that the show made her “feel closer to the culture, instead of just glimpsing from the outside of a culture. The dancing included you.”
Elaborating, she said: “Dance has always been talked of as one of the best ways to connect to God, or to your inner spirit and your emotions. Dance is one of the fundamental ways of sharing emotions with people of different languages—a fundamental form of expression for everybody—something that everyone can understand."
Delving into the show’s theme, Ellisa said: “The overall message of hope, I think, that’s very poignant with anybody, no matter what culture they’re in. Not letting people put you down and try to tell you what you should believe—I think that’s a message that went throughout the whole show.
“One particular song for me … that I really felt a very wonderful message was "Your Life’s True Desire" I felt a very great connection with that.
For Ellisa, the entire show was very much about "living your life for things other than wealth and possessions and that sort of thing. I loved the message of that song.
"Living your life for self-expression, spirituality and the evolution of the human spirit, which I think is what dance expresses—which also ties into the title of the entire show: Divine dance.
"Dance has always been talked of as one of the best ways to connect to God, or to your inner spirit and your emotions,” she explained.
"What Shen Yun meant—it was divine dance. Dance of the divine,” Ms. Oberen said.
Reporting by Sherry Dong and Sharon Kilarski
Shen Yun Performing Arts New York Company will perform at Chicago's Civic Opera House through April 24. For more information, visit ShenYunPerformingArts.org