PHILADELPHIA—When Shen Yun Performing Arts took the stage at Philadelphia’s Merriam Theater on Tuesday night, musicians Joan Kimball and Robert Wiemken found the various mediums of traditional art impressive.
Ms. Kimball and Mr. Wiemken are part of a renaissance band named Piffaro. Founded in 1980, the band performs with early wind instruments, percussion, and strings, and is modeled after the official civic, chapel, and court bands of the 14th to 17th centuries, according to its online description.
Shen Yun’s orchestra melds classical Western instruments with traditional Chinese instruments.
“This is how the effect is achieved: A Western philharmonic orchestra plays the foundation, while traditional Chinese instruments lead the melodies. The sound produced is uniquely pleasing to the ear. The ensemble at once expresses both the grandeur of a Western orchestra and the distinct sensibilities of China’s 5,000-year-old civilization,” explains the website. The 4,000 year-old erhu is an example of a distinct Chinese instrument in Shen Yun’s orchestra.
Ms. Kimball and Mr. Wiemken each said that they found Shen Yun’s orchestra “interesting to hear,” and Ms. Kimball especially appreciated the sounds of the traditional instruments. “There’s a very interesting quality to the sound that’s different than the Western instruments that many of the players are playing,” she added.
“They’re amazing dancers,” said Mr. Wiemken, adding that he was both impressed by their synchronism and vitality.
New York-based Shen Yun tours the world “with the mission of reviving 5,000 years of divinely inspired Chinese culture,” after more than 60 years of communist rule in China nearly destroyed this culture, according to the company’s website. Classical Chinese dance, “rich with expressive power,” and with a variety of difficult techniques, movements and postures to master, “one of the most comprehensive dance systems in the world,” is at the heart of a Shen Yun performance.
“They’re energetic and gorgeous,” said Mr. Wiemken. “It was quite amazing,” he added, after repeating the word “gorgeous.”
In a Shen Yun performance, a myriad of snapshots into China’s vast civilization gives the audience the feeling of moving through both time and space. Stories and myths, including the classic Chinese novel The Monkey King, and the well-known tale of Mulan, are examples of dance subjects.
“It’s certainly interesting to see the stories told in dance,” said Mr. Wiemken. He particularly noted the Joyful Little Monks, which depicts young apprentice monks in a serene secluded monastery, putting “their hearts into their work” of cleaning up the temple, according to Shen Yun’s program book, “with fun and humorous results.”
“It’s certainly not something that we would otherwise see anywhere else,” said Mr. Wiemken. “It’s quite amazing in that regard, and it’s a problem that we don’t get to experience Chinese culture in much of our experience.”
Reporting by Hannah Cai and Zachary Stieber.
Shen Yun Performing Arts, based in New York, tours the world on a mission to revive traditional Chinese culture. The 2012 season concludes this month with performances in Philadelphia, Honolulu, San Antonio, and Buffalo.
For more information, visit ShenYunPerformingArts.org.
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