HAMILTON, Ontario—A husband and wife both with an inclination for information took in Shen Yun Performing Arts at Hamilton Place Theatre on Jan. 11 and shared their peer-reviewed observations on Chinese culture.
Christine Ribic is a transplant doctor and researcher at McMaster University’s Department of Medicine. Her husband, George Sallas, is a physicist at Olympus. On Saturday night they attended their first Shen Yun performance and discussed their findings during the intermission.
“It’s beautiful, I really, really enjoyed it this far,” said Dr. Ribic.
“It’s very intricate. I think there’s an excellent combination of music, a lot of beautiful dancing, and the singing was amazing.”
She described her pleasure at how integrated all elements of the performance were that night.
Shen Yun features classical Chinese dance, as well as folk and ethnic dances from China’s diverse regions. The dancers perform to the music of a unique orchestra that combines classical Chinese and Western instruments.
They wear hundreds of original creation costumes that are carefully coordinated with the vividly animated digital backdrop, which sets the scene for each piece. Sometimes the action on the backdrop interacts with the dancers directly.
“The way the backdrop is integrated into the pieces really is amazing. So you feel like you are right there. You feel like the gods are coming down right to you in the audience. It was wonderful. Just something I didn’t expect, to be honest with you. I didn’t expect it to be so elaborate,” she said.
Mr. Sallas said Shen Yun was beautiful to watch, and a great way to learn about Chinese culture.
“The dancing and the choreography are beautiful. And the stories that they tell are quite interesting and fun to learn,” he said.
“It’s fun, it makes you happy, and it’s a an enjoyable experience.”
Shen Yun was founded on a mission to revive 5,000 years of divinely inspired Chinese culture. China is unique in the world today for the length of its unbroken historical record, a detailed account carried down dynasty after dynasty.
That rich heritage is the basis for Shen Yun’s performance. Many of the dances are mini-dramas portraying important figures, myths, or legends.
“Some of the interesting stories about mythologies, and some of the more religious aspects of it and the philosophical aspects are nice to see,” he said.
With the second half of the show still before him, Mr. Sallas said he was quite taken with a dance called Ne Zha Churns the Sea. The lively dance tells the story of demi-god Ne Zha, who is born out of a giant meatball to save an idyllic seaside village from an evil Dragon King.
“It’s a cute story, the classical battle between good and evil,” he said.
He also appreciated that Shen Yun drew upon China’s most important spiritual traditions. Much of that culture has been lost in China after 60 years of communist rule, notably the decade-long Cultural Revolution from 1967 to 1976, but it was apparent on stage Saturday.
“It’s neat to learn about some of the Daoist principles, in terms of peace,” he said.
His wife, Dr. Ribic, also noted that aspect of the performance and the ongoing denigration of traditional beliefs in China.
Besides classical tales from antiquity, Shen Yun also presents contemporary stories from China and the challenges faced by people of faith under an authoritarian regime.
One such story is told in the dance The Steadfast Lotus, where a mother gives her daughter a beautiful banner reading “Truth, Compassion, Tolerance,” the central tenets of Falun Dafa. But the moment is shattered when Communist Party police arrive and take the mother way.
It’s a plot mirrored countless times across China today, but in this tale the daughter’s steadfast faith leads to a hopeful ending.
“I was really touched,” Dr. Ribic said of the piece. “They touched upon truth, spirituality, and tolerance. It’s a shame that the culture is being suppressed in the way that it is in China because it’s just beautiful and there’s a lot to learn from it,” she said.
“There’s a lot of depth and spirituality to the culture, a lot of integration. I was very impressed. I’d like to learn more. I can’t wait till the second half of the show,” she added.
She said she also appreciated that Shen Yun had so much range.
“There are parts that are touching, there are parts that are funny and comical. So there’s something for everyone in the show.”
“I’d say that it was something that is very beautiful to watch, inspiring to look at, and also something that is just very well integrated. It looks almost like it’s effortless but I understand it probably took hours and hours and years to get it to the point where it’s at. It is inspiring,” Dr. Ribic said.
She said there were layers of meaning within the performance, noting the themes of the connection between family, humanity, nature, and spirituality.
“It’s worth coming to see. It’s wonderful and colourful, and it’s a beautifully done show,” said Mr. Sallas.
“It was lovely,” said Dr. Ribic.
“I’ll come again,” said Mr. Sallas.
New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has four touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world. Shen Yun’s World Company will perform in Hamilton for one more show Sunday before going on to Kitchener-Waterloo. For more information, visit Shen Yun Performing Arts.
The Epoch Times considers Shen Yun Performing Arts the significant cultural event of our time. We have proudly covered audience reactions since Shen Yun’s inception in 2006.