BOSTON, Mass.—When Shen Yun Performing Arts played at the Boch Center Wang Theatre in Boston on Nov. 13, its vibrancy and color delighted the Jennings family.
“It’s totally unique from anything we’ve experienced,” declared Angus Jennings, the town manager and finance director of West Newbury.
“It’s so vibrant. And the costumes are so amazing,” said Kristen Jennings, an early childhood teacher. “It adds so much to what you see … the fluidity of the dancers. [It’s] very colorful, very engaging.”
“Totally unmistakable, completely original. We love it very much,” said Angus. He added that he saw how the Chinese culture was very rich.
China was once known as the Divine Land, where celestial beings and mortals once co-existed harmoniously. Shen Yun’s dances thus portray a culture that was gifted to the Chinese people by the Gods.
“I think it connects you to something that … people are missing in China right now,” Kristen said.
Shen Yun’s mission is to revive China’s 5,000-year-old traditional culture, which was virtually destroyed when the communist party took power over 70 years ago.
“And it’s beautiful. And it should be restored, and it should be treasured. … It’s very important for all of us to come and see something like this,” Kristen said.
Kristen described how she felt after watching the performance.
“I know that my heart is warmed and I know that my eyes are open. And each dance tells a story that takes you back in time, but also makes you think of what’s going on in your own life right now.”
“[The soprano was] phenomenal. Oh, my gosh, I had chills. It is so moving,” she added. “And so emotional and from the heart. I loved it.”
Shen Yun’s sopranos use a singing technique that was once used in ancient Chinese theatre, known in the west as bel canto. This method of singing in the upper register, which has since been lost in both the East and West, has been revived by Shen Yun.
Angus was totally in agreement. “The singer was transcendent, quite wonderful,” he said. “It was something that we don’t experience very often in our culture.”
Kristen said she believes Shen Yun has great educational value for children. “If we can get young children to come in and see this, and to enjoy it and to talk about what they’ve seen,” Kristen said.
Brent McDougall believes that the West, including himself, has a very shallow understanding of ancient Chinese culture.
“I know so little about the Chinese culture … it’s just so many thousands of years and such a deep culture, and yet we understand so little of it … that’s why [Shen Yun is] interesting, because it ties, looking back, looking forward, where we are today, and all those cultural things,” said McDougall, a retired banker.
“It’s interesting because it’s traditional Chinese dance and it’s not China today—this is China before the communist party took over. And the fact that China, of course, is an ancient culture, and it would date Western civilization by thousands of years. And it takes you through all that and it reinforces the fact that China has deep roots in religion … that was all stamped out by Mao and the communist party and continues to be stamped out today.”
In ancient China, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism were cornerstones of civilization and permeated every aspect of society.
“The Chinese people are absolutely dominated by the communist party, and not allowed to practice religion because communism in itself is the religion you’re supposed to practice,” McDougall said. Celebrating the spirituality of ancient China is very much part of the cultural revival on which Shen Yun is embarking.
“It’s just that people are afraid, right? And therefore, they can’t express themselves in traditional ways,” he said.
McDougall also said he admired the athleticism of the dancers.
“I thought it was fantastic … very stimulating. I am just totally impressed by it,” he said.
Shen Yun’s stories carry messages about the power of universal compassion and kindness.
“Whether you truly believe in a God or whatnot, the principles are there … [Shen Yun] brings forward the whole introspection of improving yourself, as opposed to the communist party, which is: you’re supposed to give up for the state, as opposed to look inward and make yourself a better person.”
McDougall noted the importance of culture for all societies.
“I think losing any culture, losing its history, is terrible. All cultures have the good times, the bad times, the dark times, but you can’t forget them … you can’t forget your roots. [It] doesn’t mean you can’t join in and be a global society, but you shouldn’t forget your own culture,” he said.
Reporting by Mary Mann and Diane Cordemans.