Shen Yun: A Modern Expression of an Ancient Tradition

Classical performing arts company blazes an enchanting new path
December 3, 2014 Updated: December 4, 2014

What is it that creates a magical theatrical experience—one that transcends mere audio-visual spectacle and leaves a deeper, transformative impression? What is it that makes an imprint on the psyche, leaving a feeling that lingers for days and weeks after a movie or performance?

Modern technology has definitely contributed to our ability to create and share art, but it can be a double-edged sword when it comes to artistic expression.

The problem is, it is easy to overuse and abuse the modern artistic mediums to the point that our senses no longer tingle when we are presented with a more subtle beauty. The emphasis has been on the spectacle and not on the soul.

Of course, we want to be wowed and stimulated, and we want all of our senses to react to what we see. But that alone is not enough. A fine balance is necessary to create a theatrical experience that is awe-inspiring but still human and beautiful.

This is something that Shen Yun Performing Arts has been able to achieve.

“Fantastic! So elegant and beautiful,” said Vanessa Harwood, a former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada who saw the show several times in Toronto.

“It’s a new realm of dance—there’s a lot of depth to it, and a lot of meaning.”

Regarded as the foremost ambassadors of classical Chinese dance, the New York based company has succeeded in marrying the modern and the ancient in a way that enables audiences to experience the rich cultural legacy of China in a modern context.

The popularity of Shen Yun, which will soon begin its 2015 global tour, has increased exponentially within the last few years largely due to the fact that it provides theatre-goers with a depth of performance that audiences love.

To present ancient traditions formed over 5,000 years to today’s world, Shen Yun has embraced the best of modern technology and used it as a means of communicating China’s rich and varied culture through the classical arts.

Modern Touch

Combining the modern with the ancient is something that Shen Yun has managed to pull off with panache due to an innate understanding of how the two can supplement each other, creating a holistic theatrical experience that is exhilarating both visually and spiritually.

To depict the China of yesteryear, Shen Yun incorporates a huge digital backdrop that displays vivid animated settings, transforming the stage into a world that transports audiences to the Middle Kingdom’s ancient lands.

The graphics technology is state of the art and larger than life. But rather than being overbearing, the digital projection constantly works in harmony with the performers on stage, augmenting and adding to the performance.

Robert Stromberg, the Oscar-winning production designer of “Avatar,” is someone who knows a thing or two about special effects. He was impressed after seeing Shen Yun in Los Angeles in 2010.

“It’s absolutely beautiful. It was so inspiring, I think I may have found some new ideas for the next ‘Avatar,'” he said in an Epoch Times interview after the show.

Our threshold for impulse stimulus has been widened to the point that we no longer find “larger than life” production enough. Shen Yun fills this void, blazing a new trail by bringing to audiences the essence and enduring charm of classical China.

Chi Cao, principal dancer with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and lead actor in “Mao’s Last Dancer,” said Shen Yun, demonstrates “the highest realm in arts.”

“Shen Yun inspires the performing arts world,” he said after seeing the show in London, England.

There’s a reason why the film industry has of late begun to veer away from computer-generated imagery and re-embrace more traditional forms of “movie magic”—filmmakers are recognizing that people want more substance, more meaning.

Maybe Shen Yun has started a trend…

Shen Yun has four companies that tour simultaneously each year. During the Canadian leg of the tour, Shen Yun will play in Hamilton Dec. 27-28; Kitchener Dec. 29-30; Ottawa Jan. 2-4; Montreal Jan. 7-11; Quebec City Jan. 13-14; Mississauga Jan. 16-18; Vancouver Jan. 16-18; and Toronto Jan. 21-25.