SCHENECTADY, New York—In the heart of downtown Schenectady is Proctors Theatre, a 1926 beauty that has been lovingly restored over recent years. Gracing its main stage on Wednesday, Jan. 19 was Shen Yun Performing Arts New York Company, now on a global tour, bringing spirit of traditional China to theaters the world over.
Shen Yun is a show “we’re so proud to bring to downtown Schenectady,” said Jim Salengo, executive director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation. “Shen Yun is … absolutely phenomenal.”
Mr. Salengo's company works to improve and revitalize the the city's downtown, where Proctors Theater is located. “Proctors Theatre is really the emotional heart of downtown Schenectady,” he said.
New York-based Shen Yun is revitalizing the traditional culture of China and its 5,000-year heritage, which has been systematically destroyed in China over decades of communist rule.
“I saw a phenomenal cultural experience that everybody should take the opportunity to see,” Mr. Salengo said. “The beautiful costumes, and the stories, and the music that Shen Yun provides are something really that everyone should see.”
Shen Yun sets authentic renditions of traditional Chinese stories, some from classic books such as "Outlaws of the Marsh" and "Journey to the West," to dance. Folk dances from some of China's ethnic groups as well as large ensemble dance pieces portraying different aspects of Chinese history add to the Shen Yun experience. All the dance pieces are accompanied by Shen Yun's orchestra, which is unique in the world in combining classical Chinese and classical Western instruments.
“I loved the fact that the host explained in advance what we were seeing, so you could enjoy it and understand the significance behind the movements, the music, and the story you were seeing on the stage.”
In addition to dance, Shen Yun features operatic musical pieces sung in the Bel Canto style. Two Masters of Ceremonies take the time before each dance or song to speak to the audience, explaining what audience members are about to experience.
A few of the Shen Yun stories are set in contemporary China. One of the dances, titled Our Story, tells the story of a teacher who educates her students not only in Chinese but also in the traditional Chinese virtues of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance. As these values are associated with the Falun Dafa spiritual discipline, which has been persecuted by the communist regime ruling China since 1999, soon police arrive and attack the teacher. The students, who stand by her side, are rewarded for their courage with a wondrous scene.
“I think some of their performances talking about the Falun Dafa movement and what’s going on there [in China] were very memorable," said Mr. Salengo. "It was very emotional and very impactful in how the story was told.”
Mr. Salengo was surprised and impressed by Shen Yun's high-tech animated backdrop, which is used to set an immersive, stage-spanning background for each piece, transporting the audience, for a time, to another world.
“The way the interaction between the screen, where you would have the video screen behind the stage interacting and coming to life with the actors and the performers on the stage was really an interesting element that I didn’t expect," he said.
"I thought it was a really interesting way to bring some more fantasy or some more interest to the actual performance on the stage itself—so [it was a] really great performance.”
Concluding the interview, Mr. Salengo had some powerful words for anyone who might have the chance to see Shen Yun:
“If you’re interested in learning about China, learning about the culture, and really appreciating the diversity that we have in this country, and the great history of China and the culture and the music of China, this is something you should absolutely see yourself, take your kids, take your family, and tell your friends to see as well.”
If Mr. Salengo has his way, Shen Yun will be soon returning to downtown Schenectady.
“We really look forward to hosting future incarnations of the performance here at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady,” he declared.
Reporting by NTD Television, Jan Jekielek and Charlotte Cuthbertson.
New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has three touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world. For dates in Detroit and other tour stops, visit ShenYunPerformingArts.org