Shen Yun performers danced, sang, and played their way into the hearts of theatregoers at Toronto’s Sony Centre this past weekend during a five-show run that marked the beginning of the group’s tour of Eastern Canada.
A cultural institution of the first order, New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts is bringing about a renaissance of China’s 5, 000-year-old traditional culture through the medium of a large-scale theatre production that combines classical Chinese dance, a live orchestra, and operatic vocal performances.
There’s something about Shen Yun’s performances that strikes a deep chord with audiences. Among audience members there is a nearly universal acknowledgement that Shen Yun delivers something profound that goes deeper than a typical stage performance.
Irwin Cotler, one of Canada’s great human rights champions, has long wanted see Shen Yun. He had his chance on April 21, and the human rights lawyer and now-retired longtime MP said the performance was an example of humanity’s greatest potential.
“You come here this evening and you experience the dance, and you experience the artistry, you experience [the] people … then you say, ‘You know what, there is another way,'” he said.
“There are traditional values that we’re all part of, there are these values that we can not only share, but that we impart to each other, enrich each other’s life, and thereby enrich our common humanity.”
Connection to the Spirit
For Ara Perez, a human rights attorney and medical student, the performance resonated deeply. She was particularly touched by the universal themes in the lyrics sung by some of the world’s finest bel canto singers.
“The words are touching my soul,” she said during the intermission, referring to the lyrics sung by soprano Tianling Song. “It’s very beautiful, deeply spiritual.”
Perez said the spiritual aspect is what drew her to come see Shen Yun.
“That’s why I’m here. I feel like the minute I walked in and they opened the curtains—it’s beautiful. Deeply spiritual, every moment.”
Maria Vrckovnik, a retired medical technician, said she felt a spiritual connection to Shen Yun.
“It’s very pleasant, warm. It can give you sense of humanity. I’m really delighted by the way they can express their feelings with movement.”
Beauty in Movement
The movements of classical Chinese dance, steeped in 5,000 years of history and culture, leave a deep impression on many audience members who marvel at the expressiveness of the art form.
“The movements were so fluid, it’s just like they’re flying on the stage—incredible,” said business owner Michael Pourvakin.
“The women—it looked like they were walking on water or it was a moving stage because it was so fluid—floating all over the stage.”
“You could see the passion in their movements,’ said school councillor Jason James. “You could feel the passion in the music and the dancing and the expression. It was a good feeling.”
Model and PR professional Stephanie Chong was impressed with the effortless skill of the dancers.
“They looked like they were flying, as if they weren’t touching the ground, just flying on the stage,” she said. “They’re very graceful. Even when they’re on the floor it doesn’t seem like they’re on the floor.”
A History Lesson
Shen Yun was established in 2006 by a group of overseas Chinese artists who wanted to restore China’s divinely inspired culture that was all but lost under decades of communist rule. This effort has fuelled an interest in Chinese and non-Chinese alike looking to understand the history of one of the world’s great cultural lineages.
Lawyer and former television and radio broadcaster Joel Etienne found a valuable history lesson in the performance.
“When they say they cover 5, 000 years [of Chinese history], it’s true. … You go from ancient to current so quickly and to have all that blended and in harmony is very unique and special,” he said. “I think they are preservers of this history.”
For TV host and author Stacey Simon, seeing China’s millennia-old culture portrayed through the different time periods was like seeing “time and space, heaven and the earth, coming together.”
“I just thought it was really beautifully created on the stage for everyone to be able to enjoy and sit back and just watch it unfold right in front of you,” she said.
Robin Kay, one of Canada’s fashion icons, reflected on the physical beauty of the performance.
“I’m from the world of fashion. The colour combinations were very surprising and ethereal—very beautiful combinations of colour—turquoise and orange, shades of light blue,” she said.
“I absolutely loved the show, everything went right to my heart.”
Shen Yun continues its eastern Canadian tour with performances in Montreal April 30–May 1, followed by Quebec, Kitchener, Ottawa, and Hamilton. For more information, visit: ShenYunPerformingArts.org