In a career spanning over 70 years, Richard Connema, the renowned critic for Talkin’ Broadway, has reviewed 3,000–4,000 shows. Yet when he saw Shen Yun Performing Arts for the first time in San Francisco in 2009, he was astounded.
“That’s the top!” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
For the past seven years, Shen Yun has enchanted millions of audience members with its refined performances of classical Chinese dance and music, from top artists to government officials to people of all ages and backgrounds.
With a brand new 2014 show, Shen Yun is once again set to embark on a six-month long global tour this winter. In Canada, it is scheduled to perform in 8 cities across the country from Dec. 27 to Jan. 26.
Several prominent government officials have sent greetings welcoming the New York-based company, including Gov. Gen. David Johnston, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.
“In a multicultural and diversified society like ours, such a high-quality production is a great source of enjoyment,” wrote Johnston.
“The long classical Chinese artistic tradition encourages all Canadians to be inspired by the talent of these artists and to appreciate the splendour of the Chinese culture. I thank the members of the Shen Yun company for providing us with such wonderful entertainment, which enriches our Canadian cultural mosaic and has delighted connoisseurs of excellence for thousands of years.”
So what makes this show a delight for millions of audience members around the world? Former Canadian ballet leading lady Vanessa Harwood summed it up after seeing the 2010 performance in Mississauga.
“It has passion, but yet it’s calm and beautiful,” she said. “It’s not just pretty pretty, it’s serious pretty—there’s a lot of depth to it, and a lot of meaning.”
Reviving 5,000 Years of Civilization
Shen Yun was born in 2006 when a group of leading overseas Chinese artists came together in New York with the wish to “revive the true, divinely inspired culture of China and share it with the world,” according to the company’s website.
Throughout its 5,000 years of history, Chinese culture has been constantly enriched, with every dynasty contributing its own distinct cultural traits. At the core has been the emphasis on the divine, and thus on inner meaning and self-improvement, with spiritual teachings such as Buddhism and Taoism guiding people and society.
Yet much of this meaning has been lost in modern-day Chinese society since the Communist Party came to power, which set out to systematically destroy people’s belief in the harmony between human and the divine.
Shen Yun artists embarked on a journey not only to revive the splendour of the culture through beautiful performances of classical Chinese dance—one of the oldest and most comprehensive dance systems in the world—but also to capture the inner meaning that lies at the heart of the culture.
Star Wars actor Anthony Daniels noted this when he attended the performance in Pittsburgh last January. “This show demonstrates the deep, deep, deep artistic soul of China,” he said.
Using the universal language of music and dance, this revival has resonated with audiences around the world, with tours taking Shen Yun to more than 100 cities across five continents. Since its establishment, Shen Yun has grown rapidly with four companies set to tour this year, each accompanied by an orchestra and renowned bel canto singers.
‘Wonderful world of dance’
Shen Yun has been playing in major cities in Canada since 2007, drawing full houses and sold-out shows.
“It was absolutely marvellous. We were taken away in a wonderful world of dance and movement that I haven’t seen in a long time,” said renowned opera director Irving Guttman who saw the show in Vancouver in 2010. Guttman established several opera companies and is known as the father of opera in Western Canada.
The Shen Yun orchestras have been particularly noteworthy in their unique combination of the traditions of Eastern and Western music—with ancient Chinese instruments leading the melody on top of a full Western orchestra.
“It’s a distinct sound. The erhu has such a plaintive, human-voice quality to it. … And I like all of the Chinese percussion—it’s so expressive,” said Canadian conductor Kerry Stratton who saw the show in Toronto in 2009.
Honourable Lisa MacLeod, MPP for Nepean-Carleton, Ottawa, has attended the show several times in Canada’s capital city. In 2009, she said: “I spent the first part of this performance admiring the performance, but also looking at the complete wonderment in my 3-year-old’s eyes as she watched the performance. She was dancing and really enjoyed it.”
Former Canadian champion Elvis Stojko commented on the dancers’ performance that transcended technique.
“It’s a message of peace and happiness, the peace and happiness that I get from watching it,” he said.
Artist Zita Alderdice simply said: “It kind of brings your soul alive.”
Shen Yun Performing Arts begins the Canadian leg of its international tour on Dec. 27 in Quebec City, followed by performances in Ottawa, Montreal, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Mississauga, Toronto, and Vancouver during the month of January. For more information or to buy tickets, visit: www.shenyunperformingarts.org