HOUSTON—Producer-editor Nick Geist was struck by Shen Yun Performing Arts’ revival of traditional Chinese arts at the Jones Hall for Performing Arts the night of Dec. 30.
“I spent a month and a half in Guangzhou, [China], and you never see anything like this,” Mr. Geist said.
Indeed, the New York-based company has not been able to perform in China since its inception in 2006 due to the traditional culture presented.
Traditional Chinese values teach principles like benevolence and justice and respect for the heavens, and these values are embedded in the art forms. Since the Cultural Revolution in China, traditional culture has “been all but completely demolished,” according to Shen Yun’s website.
Mr. Geist said that being in China he got the sense that there was pride in the locals’ culture, “But to not be able to see this sort of thing over there, to be able to teach tradition [in textbooks] but not be able to interpret tradition in an art form, is a little striking.”
He said he felt the mission and content of Shen Yun is good. “Being able to recognize that and being able to spread that throughout the world, through this type of performance, that’s a good thing, that’s an amazing thing,” Mr. Geist said.
Mr. Geist attended the performance with Ms. Mari Hodges, who thought that Shen Yun’s performance shared the traditional Chinese culture “on a higher level.”
“By sharing that culture outside of it, way over here is just another way you unite all together, on a bigger level,” Ms. Hodges said. “For me, it didn’t matter what culture or belief you’re in, it all has the same threads, connected together.”
It was Ms. Hodges’ idea to attend the performance, and she had been looking forward to it for months.
“It was awesome, I loved it, the costumes were beautiful,” Ms. Hodges said.
Mr. Geist agreed, and praised the way the production was put together. Mr. Geist has had 14 years of experience editing and supervising production with multi-million dollar music videos, documentaries, and reality content.
“I think to be able to combine classical dance with new technology, to be able to transition between them, that’s great,” Mr. Geist said.
Shen Yun’s digital backdrop displays scenery to match the dances, from Han dynasty palaces to the snowy Himalayas. The animated nature of the backdrop also allows dancers to seamlessly transition from stage to screen, making the stories even more dynamic.
“You could follow the [stories] from beginning to end, absolutely,” Mr. Geist said. “There was no translation lost in the art of dance.”
Mr. Geist said the spirituality of the culture was something he knew of, but the finale brought it to life.
“The last image is very striking, to have everybody together in one plane going off to infinity, it’s a very striking image. It’s—wow,” Mr. Geist said.
The dance brings to light the persecution of the spiritual practice Falun Dafa in China, depicting what Mr. Geist called an “artistic form of a police state.”
“It’s very brave. It was very well done,” Mr. Geist said. “It was something that would definitely impact you.”
He noted the many emotions in the performance and the balance of themes. “There was a range of emotion from laughter to fun, to be able to look at the costumes and get a taste of the culture, but also to get a little bit of … what reality is,” Mr. Geist said. “Without being too preachy. It’s eye-opening, and I look forward to seeing it next year.”
The producer said he was glad the art was so freely expressed and able to reach people. “To be able to take a portion of [the culture] and turn into a true art form, and to be able to express that in a free and open arena, gives everybody a chance to pick up a piece of it, and to be a part of it,” Mr. Geist said. “I think that in and of itself it was fun and interesting, and overall a great show.”
With reporting by Catherine Yang.
New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has three touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world. Shen Yun’s International Company will be performing in Houston through January 1. For more information, visit ShenYunPerformingArts.org
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