From the moment the curtain went up, Brent Belnap, legal counsel for the Eastern European area of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, could tell he wasn’t just in for a performance of music and dance.
“I loved the portrayal, the showing of classical Chinese culture, music, dance, art, history, legend, stories, values,” said Mr. Belnap. “It was the best part of China, of Chinese culture.”
Mr. Belnap was describing Shen Yun Performing Arts, a classical Chinese dance and music company that performed at the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City, Utah, on March 16.
“It was inspiring. I was touched. The music was beautiful the stories were inspiring. I have some appreciation of Chinese culture and history because I did live in Taiwan for a little while,” said Mr. Belnap. “And I’ve been to Mainland China and I also am very interested in issues of freedom of conscience and belief and practice.”
Chinese history is filled with legends of people becoming deities by following the Tao, a process of self-cultivation. In about 500 B.C., Chinese sage Lao Zi, the founder of Taoism, wrote the “Tao Te Ching,” to help people refine their moral character and reach the realm of deities.
“Everybody wants to return to heaven, everybody wants to be good, everybody wants to improve and progress and have compassion and tolerance and virtue. And I think those principles were very well demonstrated tonight,” said Mr. Belnap.
“I’m a believer, and I believe that God is in his heaven, and we are his children here on Earth,” said Dennis Farnsworth, a professor at Utah Valley University. “And the performances and the dialogue seemed to reinforce that belief.”
Mr. Farnsworth teaches courses ranging from American heritage to modern history of East Asia to international relations.
“It was something new from China because, since the communists took over there on Oct. 1, 1949, there hasn’t been much come out of China that’s been spiritual and we were glad to see that something spiritual is out of China, at least out of New York City.”
According to the Shen Yun website, Shen Yun’s artists do a practice called Falun Gong or Falun Dafa, a meditation and qigong practice that has teachings for self-improvement. This, they say, is what makes their company able to truly spread traditional Chinese culture, which was rooted in Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism.
“It radiated, their faces, their hearts, you can see that they were sincere. Religious person myself personally, and so when I see and I’m not in competition with anyone, everybody should be this way I think. And I could feel that in the Shen Yun performers, that they are sincere, good,” Mr. Belnap added.
“If man will worship God, God, in turn, will help mankind. Shen Yun demonstrated that tonight. People who see it will give it some thought, they will give some thought, they’ll reflect on it, and especially if they come again and see it, that’ll reinforce perhaps a newfound belief that maybe there is a God, ” said Mr. Farnsworth. “And maybe we are his children, and maybe he created us and maybe we ought to worship him and give him more of our time and energy.”
This season, the New York-based company will put on over 500 performances in more than 150 cities all around the world. For the first time, it will be performing in Israel, in Tel Aviv on March 25.