CLAREMONT, Calif—Martha Andresen is a scholar of the arts, a professor of English for 30 years, and a Crystal Quill award winner for her international reputation in Shakespeare scholarship. It is her belief that art, and the study of it, can give such insight that it impacts our lives. Therein lies the spark for creativity and creative thinking, the nexus between performing arts and humanity.
On April 8, she witnessed this in full form on stage at the Bridges Auditorium at Pomona College, where she has taught. In Shen Yun Performing Arts, she witnessed inspiration.
“We are the recipients of this ancient, beautiful culture,” Ms. Andresen said of the performance. She had seen her fair share of theatrical performances, but never anything like this. It was two-and-a-half hours of classical Chinese dance, music that highlighted traditional Chinese instruments, and stories that told of ancient values held by the authentic traditional Chinese culture.
It was something “that we would never see ordinarily, and it’s also a valuing of a spiritual life that’s deeply moving and inspiring, that cuts across culture, that makes you realize the aspirations of so many people who may or may not have that liberty to express in China,” Ms. Andresen said. She was referring to the fact that Shen Yun cannot be seen in China. There, traditional culture and beliefs have been oppressed since communism took power and sought to uproot all that came before it—5,000 years of civilization—in favor of atheism and struggle as its doctrine.
What Shen Yun presented for Ms. Andresen was another side of China.
Looking around the auditorium, she saw audience members of all ethnicities and ages. All sorts of people curious to learn more about China.
“They’re hungry to know more of this mysterious country where we only get one side of it in kind of the media,” she said. We do not hear or see these beautiful artistic forms, she said, so Shen Yun allows us a whole other way to see how China evolved its spirituality.
And the culture was communicated in a beautiful way.
“The performers are absolutely exquisite. The effort and the reverence that have been put into it are so evident to us,” she said. “So I feel very grateful to have had this vision of a whole another side of a culture that I thought did not exist anymore in China.”
Her amazement was such that she wanted to extend gratitude to the performers for their “efforts to create this for audiences here, so we understand a whole other side of life that’s so much more ancient than our culture and has much to teach us.”
The Beauty of it All
Shen Yun’s mission to revive a nearly-lost culture would not have been so touching had the performance not been presented in the most beautiful way. According to Ms. Andresen, the artists sought perfection and achieved it.
“The dancing is miraculous. These dancers are so well trained and so beautiful and so perfectly choreographed. I just marvel at the artistry of the dancers,” she said. “They’re all perfect and beautiful, and they’re all in the spirit of the music and of the mission, you can feel that they are really committed to perfection, to show us the best they can do.”
In addition to the classical Chinese dance pieces, story-based dances, and ethnic and folk dances, Shen Yun presents bel canto solo vocalists. These are all art forms Shen Yun aims to revive, as the heart of these dances have been left by the wayside in modern China, and the authentic bel canto technique is rarely practiced today.
The songs, Ms. Andresen said, were beautiful in both the delivery and lyrics. They spoke of vision of life, she said.
“All of this is so ancient, and so important to know and think about: that there is a way that we maybe have multiple lives, that we evolve in this earth through difficulty, and that there is beauty in this world.”
Through these arts and this ancient culture that has been saved, Ms. Andresen said, we were reminded of something important to humanity.
“We are reminded of a spirituality that’s central to our human lives.”
“It takes many forms: art, visualizing something in a certain way, we have to remove ourselves from the political and the material and the concern with power and possession, and think about human life on a much broader scale, and a much deeper way in our hearts as a whole to understand this world better and ourselves,” she said.
Shen Yun is “deeply inspiring,” Ms. Andresen said.
Thrilling Forms of Art
The unique art forms revived on stage also had an inspiring effect on audience members Dennis Berman and Marilyn Sousa, who attended the performance together and have been friends for 61 years.
Mr. Berman, a retired arts dealer, and Ms. Sousa, a retired music teacher, both said the performance was just thrilling.
“Thrilling from the beginning to the end,” Mr. Berman said. The music of the East-West orchestra had created such an atmosphere that got him into the performance, and the digital backdrop transported him through the millennia and across China. He heartily recommended the performance to everyone and anyone again and again.
“I was soaring with them, and even went to the moon, I think,” Mr. Berman said. “It just hit you. And I was thrilled, absolutely thrilled—everybody go see this production.”
Ms. Sousa was enamored with the new type of music she was hearing—traditional Chinese instruments like the erhu leading the melody on top of a Western orchestra.
“I will see it every year as long as I live. Seriously,” Mr. Berman said. “A production like this, I would think, might come along once in a lifetime.”
Reporting by Michael Ye, Alex Li, and Catherine Yang
New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has four touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world. For more information, visit Shen Yun Performing Arts.
Epoch Times considers Shen Yun Performing Arts the significant cultural event of our time. We have proudly covered audience reactions since Shen Yun’s inception in 2006.