The New Jersey Performing Arts Center was built on the strong support and determination of local residents to have a world-class theater that could host world-class shows and bring life back to a city that was in slow decline. In 1997, the industrial-inspired, 3,352-seater performing arts center in downtown Newark was completed, and it helped revitalize the local arts scene and the Gateway City itself.
From April 29 to May 1, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center will again host a nonprofit classical Chinese dance company that is having the same impact on traditional Chinese culture that the classy, red-brick theater had for the city of Newark—a revival of the arts. The company seeks to revive China’s nearly lost, 5,000-year-old divinely inspired civilization through forms like classical Chinese dance.
“We are excited to again welcome Shen Yun back to Newark,” wrote Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka in a letter of support to Shen Yun Performing Arts. “The manner and power with which Shen Yun has revived an ancient art and empowered new audiences with them speaks to how our 350-year-old city has transformed and energized itself to become an international leader in so many areas, including the arts and culture.”
Based in upstate New York, Shen Yun has for a decade enthralled audiences around the world with scenes from the heavens, vignettes from Chinese myths and legends, and modern tales of compassion and steadfast perseverance through dance, song, and music. The authentic traditional Chinese culture that Shen Yun presents cannot be seen in mainland China today, because it has been all but wiped out under communist rule.
With a history almost as long as the Chinese civilization, classical Chinese dance is the perfect art form to depict the majesty of an emperor’s court or relive the upbeat, playful folk traditions. According to the Shen Yun website, “China’s deep cultural traditions are contained in classical Chinese dance, allowing its movements to be richly expressive, such that the personalities and feelings of characters can be portrayed with unparalleled clarity.”
The colorfully costumed Shen Yun dancers leap, flip, and tumble gracefully to the harmonious melodies of a full orchestra that features both Eastern and Western instruments. Shen Yun Orchestra’s unique ensemble is capable of playing a wide range of highly expressive tunes to complement the stories that are being told on stage. According to interviews with the composers, this is because they take the approach of having the traditional Chinese instruments lead the melodies, and allow the grandeur of the Western orchestra to provide harmony.
And the powerful vocals of opera singers trained in the authentic bel canto technique have raised thunderous applause from concertgoers everywhere. Singing about life, the human condition, and the divine, every performance by Shen Yun’s soprano and tenor vocalists aim to spark soothing moments of deep introspection.
A Local Tradition
Audience members who saw Shen Yun at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in recent years found the experience educational, relaxing, and uplifting.
“The costumes were incredible, the talent was amazing—the musicians, the opera singer, the soprano was incredible. … It was really, really wonderful,” said Mrs. Inya Chehade, an executive director at a mental health and housing solutions nonprofit who saw Shen Yun with her husband and son. “I was just blown away. I loved the fact that we learned so much about the Chinese culture.”
“There were these very profound spiritual messages that can relate to people from all different religious backgrounds, or just human backgrounds. … I am thrilled with this production and I am going to make sure next year I have many tickets for my friends,” said Theresa Napolitano, founder and general manager of the Law Office of Theresa M. Napolitano.
“It made me feel relaxed,” said Leo McKenzie, a retired accountant. “The music for me was excellent … the orchestra was terrific.”
Pat Comly, an adoption social worker who took her adopted Chinese daughter to see Shen Yun, said, “The meaning of the songs [encompass] ancient culture that is thousands and thousands of years old. It just moves the heart. It’s great to see the culture kept alive and shown across the world, but unfortunately not in China.”
“It’s more amazing than I ever thought it could be,” said Greg Stiles, a former councilor of Mount Hope in Orange County, New York. “The colors, the stories, the action, the skill, the dance, and the music; it’s just all very spectacular.”
During the 2016 season, Shen Yun will make stops in over 100 cities worldwide. For more information about Shen Yun, visit ShenYunPerformingArts.org